Legislators struggling to meet deadline for nuke plants bailout
- Jul 1, 2019 4:19 pm GMT
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For well over a year, FirstEnergy Solutions has said the same thing to Ohio lawmakers: Help us by June 30, 2019, or we'll be forced to start shutting down Ohio's two nuclear power plants.
So now that the circulated date is at hand, and the legislature will be greatly challenged to act by today's deadline, what's going to happen?
That's the big question as the Senate Energy and Public Utilities Committee convenes Saturday afternoon in a last-gasp attempt to reach an agreement on a measure that in effect would bail out the company.
The timetable is daunting because, even if the Senate committee can agree and get the full Senate to go along, the House must agree to changes made to its version of the bailout.
And Speaker Larry Householder said senators have not approached those who sponsored the House version to see what revisions would be acceptable to avoid a time-consuming conference committee.
Earlier this month, Charles Moore, a consultant who is leading the company's efforts to climb out of bankruptcy, told lawmakers it couldn't afford the $52 million needed for nuclear fuel rods at the Davis-Besse reactor east of Toledo. While that fuel isn't needed for several months, a long lead time is necessary for the painstaking process to essentially custom-make the material, he said.
"As a result of the unprofitable position of the plants, as well as the complex bankruptcy oversight process, FirstEnergy Solutions is unable to make this commitment by June 30, 2019 without legislative support," testified Moore test.
"Unfortunately, while the company has sought relief for over 18 months, the purchase and fabrication of the fuel is now on a final stage critical time path. Without a certain outcome on the legislative front, FirstEnergy Solutions will continue moving forward with the closure of Davis-Besse."
Senate President Larry Obhof is not so sure today's deadline is hard-and-fast.
"There may be an additional window, but it's still a tight time frame," the Medina Republican said.
"We do want to do what we can to save those plants."
Householder is uncertain as well, but notes, "They've thrown out that June 30 deadline as long as I've heard about this, which is a couple of years."
The Glenford Republican wondered if FirstEnergy Solutions would go ahead a buy the necessary fuel even if Sunday's deadline is missed, if company officials "saw ball moving forward."
Attempts to reach FirstEnergy Solutions today have been unsuccessful.
The measure has been one of the most-lobbied pieces of non-budget legislation in recent years at the Statehouse. And more than $9 million has been shelled out for TV ads, the most a prominent local media buyer has ever seen on such an issue.
The stakes are high. Closing Davis-Besse and the Perry plant east of Cleveland would not only end nuclear power in Ohio, the shutdowns would eliminate 1,400 jobs and hurt the rural economies in both areas.
Environmentalists, some business groups, and oil and gas interests have been fighting the legislation, while House Democrats have rolled out their own clean energy bill with the goal of having half of the state's electricity come from renewable sources by 2050.
The measure also would bail out two coal-fired power plants, one in Ohio and one in Indiana, which are owned by a group of power companies including Columbus-based American Electric Power.
And the bill would make it harder to develop wind farms like those in western Ohio, plus eliminate surcharges for energy efficiency and renewable energy and the requirement that the state's power companies get 12.5% of their electricity from renewable sources by 2027.
The bill passed the Ohio House 53-43 in May.