The wide world of energy policy suddenly got a little more interesting yesterday, when FBI agents swooped into the state of Ohio to arrest House Speaker Larry Householder and four others on $60 million worth of federal racketeering charges, all on account of a $1 billion nuclear bailout bill under the title HB6. With that kind of firepower behind nuclear energy, it’s little wonder that the state’s renewable energy sector has been drifting in the doldrums. The big question is, what’s next?
Bribery! Corruption! $1 Billion Bailout!
According to the Nuclear Energy Institute, Ohio’s two nuclear power plants account for 87% of the state’s zero emission electricity.
That’s not exactly something to write home about. Considering that the cost of renewable energy is continuing to drop with no end in sight, this would be a bad time to double down on expensive nuclear energy.
Nevertheless, Ohio Citizen Action estimates that the HB6 nuclear bailout will sock ratepayers with $200 million in increased costs.
HB6 was signed into law last year, saddling Ohio ratepayers with two aging nuclear power plants and two old coal power plants, to boot.
“Governor Mike DeWine signed House Bill 6 (HB 6) into law on July 23, 2019, approving bailouts for the Davis-Besse and Perry nuclear plants, which are owned by FirstEnergy’s former subsidiary FirstEnergy Solutions (FES), and were previously scheduled to close in 2020 and 2021, respectively, after FES announced its bankruptcy,” explains Ohio Citizen Action. “The final version of the bill extends the bailout to two old and dirty coal plants—Kyger Creek in southern Ohio and Clifty Creek in Indiana.”
Adding insult to injury, HB6 also rolled back Ohio’s renewable energy and energy efficiency standards.
It will take a while for the legal dust to settle, but in the meantime Householder and his cohorts are charged with accepting $60 million in bribes from “Company A,” aka FirstEnergy.
For those of you keeping score at home, that other four charged are the consultant Matt Borges (former Ohio Republican Party Chair), the independent lobbyist Neil Clark, a FirstEnergy Solutions lobbyist named Juan Cespedes, and Jeff Longstreth, who is an aide to Householder.
Renewable Energy Struggles In Ohio
Renewable energy has been slow to catch on in Ohio for a number of reasons, and now it looks like racketeering can be added to the list.
Back in 2014, when other Midwest states were starting to get all fired up about wind power, Ohio lawmakers scored a one-two punch over renewable energy stakeholders. They engineered two bills that rolled back Ohio’s renewable energy standard and also established new setback restrictions on wind turbines.
Former Governor John Kasich seemed to be going in the right direction in 2015, when he began advocating for renewables. Nevertheless, he also promoted a new statewide energy plan that called for enabling more oil and gas drilling, which the League of Conservation Voters described as a “doomsday machine.”
Despite that, Kasich continued to support renewables on the electricity generating side. In 2016, for example, he sent heads spinning when he vetoed a bill that would have gutted the state’s renewable energy standard.
Unfortunately for renewable energy fans, Kasich left office in 2019, DeWine took office, and the rest is HB6 history.
Ohio Renewable Energy Drifting In Doldrums
In terms of renewable energy adoption, Ohio doesn’t stack up that badly compared to other Rust Belt states. Still, years of legislative pushback have left Ohio well behind the pack on a national level. That’s quite an odd look for a state that ranks high in wind industry manufacturing capabilities and has a fairly health solar manufacturing sector to boot.
When it comes to electricity generation, the Solar Energy Industries Association currently ranks Ohio down at 29th for installed solar among the 50 states, down from 26th last year. Solar accounts for just 0.35% of the state’s electricity.
Wind fares a bit better, but not by much. The American Wind Energy Association ranks Ohio 23rd for installed wind, accounting for only 1.7% of electricity generated in the state.
A 2019 electric vehicle tax also didn’t do much to boost the state’s clean tech profile, adding to the weird disconnect between Ohio’s energy policy and its manufacturing sector.
The state’s reluctance to invest in low cost renewable energy seems all the more out of step, considering that Ohio sits all the way up in the top five US states for electricity demand. It also makes the top 10 for coal consumption.
Ohio Wind Power Profile Picks Up Steam
Be that as it may, the stage is set for Ohio to burst the bonds of high cost nuclear energy and fossil fuels, to boot.
That doesn’t necessarily mean Ohio will suddenly sprout more wind and solar farms. However, Ohio is within the PJM Interconnection service territory, which includes Delaware, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Maryland, Michigan, New Jersey, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Virginia, West Virginia, and the District of Columbia.
Renewable energy activity in the other PJM states could ripple over to Ohio. In particular, keep your eyes on at least one adjacent state, Illinois.
Illinois has adopted an ambitious clean power plan and is already at the 10% renewable energy mark. In direct contrast to Ohio, Illinois also produces more electricity than it can consume, and there is plenty more where that came from.
Earlier this month, for example, the Ohio-based energy company American Electric Power inked a deal for a 400 megawatt wind farm, to be built in Illinois.
Electricity from the new Panther Grove project will enable the company’s subsidiary, AEP Energy, to provide renewable energy to Google for its data center in Albany, Ohio.
It’s too bad that Ohio is missing out on all those wind power jobs and tax revenue, too. Oh, well.
Ohio Solar On The Move, Too
Meanwhile, it looks like Ohio’s solar profile is beginning to pick up steam, and the renewable energy jobs along with it.
A 200-megawatt solar farm is under way in Brown County, to be completed by the end of this year. The deal calls for the developer, Innergex, to use 80% local Ohio labor. Another 200-megawatt solar farm is in the proposal stages in Ross County, with a target completion date in 2023.
A 50-megawatt solar farm is also on the drawing boards for Franklin County, to be located on the grounds of a former landfill.
Another force to keep an eye on is increasing pressure for more renewable energy from other industry stakeholders that have a powerful presence in the region.
It’s not just about data centers for tech firms like Google. For example, General Motors was already supporting the Ohio solar industry by 2013, and more recently the company has been pushing for more clean power on a community-wide basis elsewhere in the Rust Belt, in addition to procuring more clean kilowatts for its own manufacturing facilities.
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Image (cropped): 5 Fast Facts about Nuclear Energy via US Department of Energy.
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