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The Journal Gazette

  • FILE In this April 4, 2017, file photo, plumes of steam drift from the cooling tower of FirstEnergy Corp.'s Davis-Besse Nuclear Power Station in Oak Harbor, Ohio. Opponents of a proposed bailout of Ohio's two nuclear plants are praising a Wednesday, May 17, 2017, decision in the state House Public Utilities Committee to suspend testimony on a bill criticized by consumer, business and energy groups, even as FirstEnergy Corp., based in Akron, Ohio, continues to push for the deal. (AP Photo/Ron Schwane, File)

  • FILE This April 12, 2005, file photo, shows the Perry Nuclear Power Plant in North Perry, Ohio. Opponents of a proposed bailout of Ohio's two nuclear plants are praising a Wednesday, May 17, 2017, decision in the state House Public Utilities Committee to suspend testimony on a bill criticized by consumer, business and energy groups, even as FirstEnergy Corp., based in Akron, Ohio, continues to push for the deal. (AP Photo/Mark Duncan, File)

  • FILE In this April 12, 2005, file photo, operator Kevin Holko monitors the control room during a scheduled refueling shutdown at the Perry Nuclear Power Plant in North Perry, Ohio. Opponents of a proposed bailout of Ohio's two nuclear plants are praising a Wednesday, May 17, 2017, decision in the state House Public Utilities Committee to suspend testimony on a bill criticized by consumer, business and energy groups, even as FirstEnergy Corp., based in Akron, Ohio, continues to push for the deal. (AP Photo/Mark Duncan, File)

Friday, May 19, 2017 3:19 pm

Ohio House sidelines bailout of 2 FirstEnergy nuclear plants

By JULIE CARR SMYTH AP Statehouse Correspondent

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) Opponents are praising a decision to suspend deliberations on the proposed financial rescue of Ohio's two nuclear plants, even as Akron-based FirstEnergy continues to push for the deal.

House Public Utilities Chairman Bill Seitz, a Cincinnati Republican, discontinued testimony on legislation containing the proposal Wednesday after vocal protests by consumer, business, and environmental groups and energy competitors.

"I am not sensing a keen desire on the part of the House members to vote on this and doubt that we will have more hearings in the near future unless something cataclysmic should happen," cleveland.com quoted Seitz as saying.

The plan calls for a special fee charged to customers that the company argues is necessary to secure the future of its aging Davis-Besse and Perry plants. The two facilities produce 14 percent of Ohio's electricity.

FirstEnergy CEO Chuck Jones took his case to the Ohio Senate on Thursday, testifying for more than an hour before the Senate Public Utilities Committee on separate legislation containing the bailout plan.

"This is not a bailout for FirstEnergy," Jones testified in the House.

He said the plants provide "clean, dependable baseload resources" and "it's in the absolute best interest of our customers and the state to ensure that these plants are valued for the unique environmental and fuel-diversity benefits that they provide to Ohio."

Exactly how much the plan would generate for the nuclear plants isn't clear because subsidies are based on a complex formula involving plant emissions. Recently approved subsidy deals in New York and Illinois aimed at stopping unprofitable nuclear plants from closing prematurely cost billions.

The Environmental Defense Council has placed the price tag for the Ohio proposal at $5.25 billion. The Ohio Consumers' Counsel, representing utility ratepayers, calculated the costs to each of FirstEnergy's 2 million residential customers at $57 a year, on average, for up to 16 years, with the potential that the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio could allow upward adjustments.

Seitz's decision to sideline the proposal was praised by the Coalition Against Nuclear Bailouts, a group of more than 50 organizations that has joined forces to fight the plan. The coalition includes the Ohio Oil and Gas Association, the Ohio Manufacturers' Association, associations representing bars, bowling alleys and other small businesses, and a host of local community representatives.

Commissioner Pete Gerken of Lucas County, which includes Toledo, said the proposal would cause families and businesses in FirstEnergy's territory to "foot the hefty bill."

"Further, this proposed bailout would pick winners and losers in the energy generation market and could drive private investment, jobs and tax revenues for local governments and schools out of Lucas County and other areas of the state," he said.

The Lucas County commissioners, in northwest Ohio, and the mayor of Lordstown, in northeast Ohio, are among groups that announced opposition to the bailout ahead of Seitz's action.