House Public Utilities Committee
Chairman Hoops, Vice Chair Ray, and Ranking Member Smith
Proponent Testimony on House Bill 351
Testimony of Melissa K. English
Deputy Director, Ohio Citizen Action
September 29, 2021
Chairman Hoops, Vice Chair Ray, Ranking Member Smith, and Members of the Public Utilities Committee, my name is Melissa English and I’m the Deputy Director of Ohio Citizen Action. I thank you for the opportunity to present our support for House Bill 351.
This testimony is presented on behalf of Ohio Citizen Action’s 32,000 members and all Ohio utility ratepayers who have a stake in the decision before you.
While we acknowledge that portions of House Bill 6, the bill at the center of a $61 million bribery scandal, have been revoked, the repeal is incomplete without a full reversal of the bailout for two dirty coal plants operated by the Ohio Valley Electric Corporation or OVEC.
OVEC is owned by Ohio’s major electric utilities and consists of two large coal plants – Kyger Creek in Cheshire, Ohio and Clifty Creek in Madison, Indiana. OVEC was formed in 1952 by utilities to provide electric services in the Ohio River Valley to provide power for uranium enrichment facilities then under construction by the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission in Portsmouth. Many of those who support the OVEC bailout will often point out the fact that the plants were a national security resource as they powered the factory making the atomic bomb materials at the heart of the U.S. Cold War strategy. That was true once but has not been for decades. And it was not true when the utilities in question negotiated their latest intercompany power agreement that is in effect until June 30, 2040.
Before the passage of House Bill 6, the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio (PUCO) had already approved bailouts for AEP, Duke, and Dayton Power & Light’s shares of the OVEC coal plants through the mid-2020s with an argument that the plants could be profitable if power prices were to increase significantly. Instead, the plants have lost money every single year and been a financial drain and environmental burden on Ohioans.
By Tobili Hatcher
The time to have an Environmental Justice Champion at the helm of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) has long been overdue. FERC regulators and regulations have a monumental impact on the environment and environmental justice. For these reasons and more, Ohio Citizen Action recently signed a letter addressed to President Joseph R. Biden to consider three Environmental Justice champions, Mr. Daniel Blackman, Ms. Marquita Bradshaw, and Ms. Nidhi Thakar to take the lead on this committee. This effort, spearheaded by WE ACT for Environmental Justice and the Center for Biological Diversity, hopes to encourage the Biden administration to act quickly and appoint an Environmental and Energy Justice champion to FERC.
On Friday, August 6, Ohio Citizen Action’s Executive Director Rachael Belz was invited to speak on a panel at The City Club. Belz was joined by her colleagues and friends; Leah Hudnall of Ohio Climate Justice Fund and Tanner Yess of Groundwork Ohio River Valley. Over the course of the hour-long conversation moderated by Margaret Bernstein, guests were able to listen to a much needed conversation centered around climate change, community power, and climate equity.
The panel discussion revealed the roles that we as individuals play in the overall larger conversation surrounding climate change and community leadership.
For me, one of the biggest takeaways was a quote from Tanner Yess. Throughout the conversation, he made sure to stress the fact that “with climate change, solutions have to be nuanced, they have to fit, they have to be large-scale, and they have to be impactful.” While on some level, I knew that climate change solutions wouldn’t be completely one-size fit all, some part of me truly believed that until I heard Tanner give tangible examples.
Leah also stepped in and reminded us how there are often conversations surrounding climate change happening in many Black, Indigenous, People of Color (BIPOC) communities, but due to lack of funding and not having many resources available, their voices are not being heard. As Leah pointed out, “funder relations [are] one of the biggest barriers stopping Black, Latinx, and indigenous groups from even receiving a look at a grant or an opportunity.”
Sam Randazzo has his own definition of a bribe. The former Chairman of the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio resigned in November 2020 following an FBI raid of his Columbus home. In an op-ed written by Randazzo in 2013, he referred to Ohio’s successful renewable energy and energy efficiency standards as “consumer-supplied bribes” to get people to support and invest in clean energy sources and get on the “mandate bandwagon.”
Today however, bribes mean something quite different to Sam Randazzo. As a result of the settlement agreement reached with FirstEnergy following their orchestration of a $61 million scandal to pass House Bill 6 into law, the utility giant admitted in federal filings that they bribed Randazzo to help them craft House Bill 6 and stall a rate case that would have reduced revenues for the company.
Sam Randazzo now clearly understands the difference between investing in job growth and reduced emissions for Ohio and investing in your own personal bottom line. He understands the true meaning of a bribe.
It has been one year since Ohioans first learned of the $61 million bribery scandal surrounding House Bill 6. We are still working to clear the cloud of corruption and disgrace that hangs over our state government.
The costly coal subsidies and provisions gutting our clean energy standards implemented by House Bill 6 remain in effect today, costing our ratepayers millions every day and dragging down our economic growth.
Over the past year, Ohio lawmakers have had the perfect opportunity to develop a real energy policy for our state. Instead, they have chosen to pass legislation designed to erode property owner rights, abandon an all-of-the-above energy strategy, and pit neighbor against neighbor.
Ohio deserves a comprehensive energy policy built around equitable solutions that are good for our economy, our communities, and our health. We call on the Ohio General Assembly to stand up to big utilities and take back our energy future.
The Ohio General Assembly has left Columbus for the summer, quite literally leaving the good, the bad and the ugly in their wake. Here’s all the latest from Ohio Citizen Action’s legislative efforts thus far in 2021. Our work is clearly not done, and you have some calls to make! See ideas for action below. We need your voice!
House Bill 6 was introduced in April 2019 by Reps. Jamie Callender (R- 61) and Shane Wilkin (R- 91). Signed into law in July 2019, HB6 gave a $1.3 billion rate-payer funded bailout to FirstEnergy’s two failing nuclear plants and two old, polluting OVEC coal plants. The law also slashed Ohio’s renewable energy and energy efficiency standards.
Ohio Citizen Action worked with partners to put a statewide referendum overturning House Bill 6 put on the November 2019 ballot, an effort that failed after one of the nastiest campaigns we’ve ever seen. A pair of dark money groups, Ohioans for Energy Security and the now-admitted guilty Generation Now, spent at least $25 million on TV ads and mailers attacking the referendum effort.
Then in July 2020, Rep. Larry Householder (R- 72) and others were arrested by the FBI in connection with the $60 million bribery scheme surrounding HB 6. Ohio Citizen Action called for the full and immediate repeal of HB6 and the removal of Larry Householder from the legislature. By late March 2021, the pressure from OCA members and coalition partners led to Ohio lawmakers repealing the rate-payer funded nuclear bailout portion of the law, via HB 128.
Consumers can look forward to the $27.5 million decoupling refund provided by HB 128 in August 2021. Householder was finally expelled from the House in June 2021, which will be filled by Ohio State Highway Patrol former commander, Kevin D. Miller.
Ohio Citizen Action celebrates all of these victories, but more work needs to be done. As you read this, $233,000 taxpayer dollars a day flow to subsidize two dirty, old coal plants on the Ohio River, and Ohio’s energy efficiency and renewable energy standards remain gutted. Ohio Citizen Action has continued the call for a FULL repeal of HB 6.
ACTION: Even if you’ve written before, please take the time to tell your legislators again to FINISH THE JOB and fully repeal House Bill 6 at repealhb6.com.
House Bill 109 was introduced in February 2021 by Reps. Cindy Abrams (R- 29) and Sara Carruthers (R- 51). HB 109 is an anti-protest bill which raises the stakes of being involved in a protest in order to intimidate activists and chill free speech. Not long after its introduction, the board at Ohio Citizen Action voted to strongly oppose HB 109. The bill creates higher fines and prison time for individuals involved in and organizations supporting any protest where the activities are subjectively deemed a “riot.”
Opponent testimony on HB 109 was held Thursday, June 24, but it was added to the committee's agenda on a Tuesday evening, with a 9:00 am Wednesday deadline for all testimony. It's not surprising that the Ohio legislature scheduled an opponent hearing for an anti-protest bill with so little notice. As of now, it is unclear how or when HB 109 will move forward. Ohio Citizen Action remains strongly opposed to HB 109.
ACTION: Call or email your state representative and urge them to vote against HB 109. Find your rep here: Ohio House District Map.
Introduced in February 2021, Senate Bill 52 is sponsored by Sens. Bill Reineke (R- 26) and Rob McColley (R- 1). SB 52 subjects renewable energy projects to a new and additional layer of government regulation not applied to any other energy source, and blocks landowners from installing solar and wind projects on their own land.
Ohio Citizen Action took swift action to strongly oppose SB 52 and to organize members to urge state lawmakers to stop the bill. The controversial legislation faced roadblocks and many rewrites as a result, including united opposition from the business, farming, and environmental communities -- and did not get the easy victory proponents had expected.
The soon-to-be law is a de facto moratorium on wind and solar energy production in the state. SB 52 is currently sitting on Governor DeWine’s desk. It has become clear the policy is going to be a substantial deterrent to economic investment in Ohio, so while we expect the Governor to sign the bill into law, its detrimental impacts likely mean this conversation will continue.
ACTION: Call your state legislators to thank those who voted against SB 52 and express your displeasure with those who voted yes. Find out your legislators' phone numbers with The Ohio Legislator District Maps.
After months of pressure from Ohioans to repeal HB6, Senate Bill 117 was introduced in March 2021 by Sens. Mark Romanchuck (R- 22) and Hearcel Craig (D- 15). SB 117 is a bipartisan repeal of the HB 6 rate-payer funded bailout for the Ohio Valley Electric Corporation (OVEC) coal plants: Kyger Creek in Ohio and Clifty Creek in Indiana.
As you may know, OVEC was initially developed in response to national security concerns during the 1950s, OVEC’s contract with the Department of Energy ended in 2003. The plants are currently owned by AEP, Duke, FirstEnergy, and AES Ohio (formerly Dayton Power and Light). These utility companies were committed to pay any OVEC costs through 2040, which ended up being a bad business decision on their part, which led to the rate-payer funded OVEC bailout included in HB 6.
The repeal of this coal bailout is a strong step in the right direction. Proponent testimony for SB 117 was held in May 2021, and came from a large and vocal group of stakeholders. Business owners, environmental advocates, and members of the public all voiced their support for SB 117. Opponent testimony for SB 117 was held June 15, 2021. It starkly contrasted the proponent hearing in that the only opposition came from representatives of the utility companies. While the legislature is on recess,
SB 117 sits in the Senate Energy and Public Utilities committee. A full repeal of HB 6 is incomplete without a repeal of the OVEC bailout, and we need Ohio lawmakers to pass SB 117 to make this possible. Ohio Citizen Action is strongly in favor of SB 117.
ACTION: Call your state senator and strongly urge them to support SB 117. Find your senator here: Ohio Senate District Map.
You make this advocacy possible. We couldn't do it without you!
Clean Energy in Ohio Loses Out Again
Again today, Ohio lawmakers had the opportunity to step out of the shadows of corruption and develop a real energy policy for our state. Instead, they have chosen to support policies like Senate Bill 52, legislation designed to erode property owner rights, abandon an all-of-the-above energy strategy, and pit neighbor against neighbor. All this to ensure that fossil fuel interests continue to reign in Ohio.
It is important to remember that while Ohio legislators just passed a bill granting local and county officials the authority to interfere with wind and solar generation, over and above the thorough review of the existing Ohio Power Siting Board, those same legislators recently passed another bill prohibiting local officials from interfering with fossil fuel generation. Add these most recent roadblocks to the anti-clean energy provisions of House Bill 6, and you have three strikes that could count Ohio out of the clean energy market for the foreseeable future.
Senate Bill 52 looms much larger than just one damaging piece of state legislation. Its passage demonstrates that our state leaders are taking Ohio’s energy economy in the wrong direction in total disregard of what consumers in this state want from their energy policy. Ohioans are ready for a diversified approach that ensures reliability, keeps costs reasonable, creates new jobs, and reduces pollution in our air and water. Senate Bill 52 is more than just a bad bill, it’s a missed opportunity.
-- Rachael Belz, Executive Director, Ohio Citizen Action