The next phase of the FirstEnergy Davis-Besse campaign
Yesterday's U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission decision to allow FirstEnergy to restart the Davis-Besse nuclear plant marks the end of one phase of our campaign, and allows us to concentrate fully on another already begun: fighting FirstEnergy's $3 billion rate hike proposal now before the Public Utilities Commission.
The NRC's decision was both reckless and wholly in conflict with the facts before it, which showed that the climate of intimidation and retaliation against employees raising safety problems was getting even worse. Davis-Besse is now the first U.S. nuclear plant ever given permission to restart during a grand jury investigation of safety-related crimes at the plant.
The NRC decision was no surprise, however, since the federal agency has never revoked the license of a nuclear power plant operator.
Knowing this, our campaign never relied on the NRC to protect the safety of Davis-Besse employees and neighbors.
Our pressure on the Commission, month after month, had two limited objectives. We achieved both.
And, by now, there are many reasons why FirstEnergy would want to pick one of those options (and many clues that they are in the midst of doing precisely that).
Paramount is FirstEnergy's crushing debt load. This is the most important factor in the repeated securities downgradings. Management needs to unload debt in a big hurry. The company tried to sell off four coal plants last year, but failed. What else does it have to sell? Three nuclear plants.
This also explains their whopping rate case. FirstEnergy executives know their strength is not in electricity generation, transmission, or customer service. What they are good at -- besides bill collecting -- is buying political influence. That's why they are down in Columbus now, demanding that the Ohio Public Utilities Commission approve -- in advance -- $3 billion in overcharges to their customers through 2008.
The less rate hike FirstEnergy gets, the more likely they'll have to unload assets.