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FirstEnergy referendum lawsuit may hinge on who benefits from subsidies

Sep 06, 2019 12:33 PM

Photo by Sam Howzit / Creative Commons

COLUMBUS -- “'In most cases, and in this case, the question turns on the third criteria: Who benefits from the assessment?' said retired tax attorney M. Susan Murnane, who is not involved in the case. 'If the general public is the primary beneficiary, then the assessment is likely a tax. If a small number of nuclear energy providers are the primary beneficiaries, then the assessment is likely a fee.' Ultimately, the issue is 'a question of fact for the court,' she added.

FirstEnergy Solutions’ brief also notes that the U.S. Supreme Court found that penalties under the Affordable Care Act were a tax. However, there are differences.

'The HB 6 assessment applies to all utility users, whereas the individual mandate only applied if a taxpayer failed to purchase health insurance,' said retired government tax attorney Dennis Driscoll, who also is not involved in the case. 'Another difference is that the benefit of the HB 6 assessment will primarily go to a few utility companies.' In contrast, 'the ACA assessment was used to fund the medical insurance subsidies for the general public.'

Trish Demeter, chief of staff for the Ohio Environmental Council, said the subsidies will clearly and overwhelmingly benefit one company and its shareholders. 'They have $150 million per year for at least six years at stake. This is an estimated total going to FirstEnergy Solutions or a successive owner of Ohio’s nuclear plants of $900 million.'"

-- Kathiann M. Kowalski, Energy News Network

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FirstEnergy Solutions lawsuit asks Ohio Supreme Court to block House Bill 6 referendum

Sep 04, 2019 3:29 PM

COLUMBUS — "The filing notes that a number of opponents of HB6 argued that it was a tax during legislative debate over the measure earlier this year.

The suit was filed against Secretary of State Frank LaRose – the state’s chief elections official – as well as Ohioans Against Corporate Bailouts, the group pushing to hold the referendum.

Ohioans Against Corporate Bailouts got the go-ahead last week to begin collecting the roughly 266,000 valid petition signatures from registered voters to place the referendum on the 2020 ballot. The group has until Oct. 21 to submit the signatures.

FirstEnergy Solutions asked the Supreme Court to rule quickly, arguing in a motion that "'The sooner the Court invalidates the Referendum Petition, the fewer the number of Ohio electors who will be misled by the Committee’s illegal referendum effort and the less public resources that will be wasted in determining the sufficiency of signatures and other legal requirements relating to the futile Referendum Petition.'”

— Jeremy Pelzer,

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House Bill 6 excepts some, leaving the rest to pay more of the costs for nuclear bailout

Sep 03, 2019 11:39 AM

"The legislation's recent passage was controversial, with some Republicans opposed to the GOP-sponsored measure on economic grounds, while Democrats opposed its provisions gutting Ohio's renewable-energy standards.

One sticking point was the cost, which many said will put Ohio at an economic disadvantage against other states with which it competes for business and industrial plant locations.

Those costs, however, apparently won't be borne by everyone. Municipal power companies and rural electric co-ops are exempt from HB6 and their customers won't have to pay the subsidies, their members and associations say."

-- Dan Shingler, Crain's Cleveland Business 

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Proposed anti-House Bill 6 referendum clears initial hurdle

Aug 29, 2019 4:04 PM

COLUMBUS — "Efforts to hold a statewide referendum to overturn Ohio’s newly passed nuclear power plant bailout law moved a step closer to reality Thursday, as Attorney General Dave Yost announced he has approved supporters’ ballot summary language.

Editorial: Early start to HB 6 ad wars portends misinformation to come

Aug 29, 2019 1:40 PM

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The website of Ohioans for Energy Security warns, "don't give your personal information to the Chinese government."

"Brace yourselves, Ohio, for another whole holler-fest around House Bill 6, the recently passed law using Ohioans’ electric bills to bail out two nuclear power plants plus a couple of coal plants. It also will boost a few specific solar-energy projects but otherwise decimate clean-energy development in the state.

Unsurprisingly, the law has enough opposition that a campaign was mounted quickly to subject it to a ballot referendum. Equally unsurprisingly, HB 6 backers plan to fight the referendum effort.

If the law’s opponents succeed in getting the 265,774 valid petition signatures they need by Oct. 21 to put the issue on the November 2020 ballot, we can all expect a hard-fought campaign with a barrage of ads like those we saw while the General Assembly was debating the bill. Obnoxious ad wars are standard for high-profile ballot issues.

In this case, though, those who want to see the bailout bill survive aren’t even waiting for an election campaign; they’re spending money to keep an election from happening. A new group called Ohioans for Energy Security is running an ad urging people not to sign the referendum petition."

-- Editorial, The Columbus Dispatch

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Ad invokes spurious Chinese invasion of Ohio to try to head off HB 6 referendum: editorial

Aug 28, 2019 3:22 PM

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"As’s Jeremy Pelzer reports, this could be just the opening salvo in a likely spending spree to protect the nuclear bailout, should the issue get on the ballot.

But what is the evidence to support the ad’s alarmist rhetoric about a Chinese invasion?

Not much.

Ohioans for Energy Security, the group behind the ads, cites the fact that Ohio natural gas plants built or being built by entrepreneur Bill Siderewicz -- one of those behind the anti-HB-6 referendum effort -- have Chinese investment money (yes, along with private U.S., British, and French money and equity from Australian and Germany firms, as well).

That’s not exactly the same as an invasion."

-- Editorial Board,

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Scant evidence for Chinese threat claimed in nuke bailout backers’ ad

Aug 28, 2019 1:48 PM

(Screenshot from the new pro-HB 6 ad)

COLUMBUS -- "One problem with discerning the motives of the two groups around the legislation signed last month by Gov. Mike DeWine is that as limited-liability corporations, neither has to say who is giving them money, and both are refusing to do so.

'We’re not going to get distracted,' Pierce said. 'We’ll make our filings.'

Similarly, FirstEnergy Solutions is in bankruptcy after receiving $10.2 billion in state subsidies since 1999, but supporters of the bailout won’t say who’s financing the current $1 million ad campaign.

A spokesman for DeWine said he had no comment on the ad or its secret financing.

House Speaker Larry Householder, R-Glenford, was perhaps the biggest supporter of the bailout and on Tuesday he seemed to support the ad as well.

'We continue to be concerned about increased foreign ownership of America’s critical infrastructure and the potential threat it poses to our national security, energy security and public safety,' said his spokeswoman, Gail Crawley.

Another backer, Senate President Larry Obhof, R-Medina, said he favored the bill because it saved jobs. 'That’s the right public policy for the people of Ohio, regardless of whatever messaging either side uses on the campaign trail,' he said in an email."

-- Marty Schladen, The Columbus Dispatch

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Pro-nuclear bailout group joins battle over Ohio's new energy law

Aug 27, 2019 3:24 PM

(Photo by Steve Estvanik /

COLUMBUS -- "A group is looking to collect signatures statewide to ask voters to overturn the law that bails out nuclear power plants. But a competing group has formed to argue in favor of the ratepayer subsidies.

Ohio voters could soon face an important decision regarding the future of the state's new energy law, without even looking at a ballot.

To put a referendum on the 2020 ballot, those who want to throw out the law would have to collect more than 265,000 valid signatures – which is a big number in a very short period of time. And it means you might be approached by a person with a clipboard in the next two months asking for your support.

The new energy law created through House Bill 6 bails out Ohio's two nuclear power plants through $150 million in annual subsidies. That money is generated through a new 85-cent charge on everyone's monthly electric bills."

-- Andy Chow, Statehouse News Bureau 

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Pro-House Bill 6 group launches $1 million ad campaign to fend off statewide referendum

Aug 27, 2019 10:25 AM

COLUMBUS — "A new group that supports House Bill 6 has embarked on a nearly $1 million statewide ad campaign in an attempt to prevent a referendum on overturning the recently enacted law to bail out Ohio’s nuclear power plants and gut the state’s green-energy mandates for utilities.

The massive TV and radio ad buy, by the group Ohioans for Energy Security, is an early indication of the deluge of ads Ohioans will be subjected to if the proposed referendum makes the ballot in 2020.

...The 1-minute advertisement from Ohioans for Energy Security accuses Ohioans Against Corporate Bailouts (without mentioning its name) of 'boosting Chinese financial interests.' The group, the ad states, 'is targeting Ohio’s energy, taking Ohio money, exporting Ohio jobs, even risking our national security. They’re meddling in our elections.'

The justification for these accusations, according an Ohioans for Energy Security release, is that Bill Siderewicz, a natural-gas power plant investor involved with Ohioans Against Corporate Bailouts, has received financing from the Industrial and Commercial Bank of China, which is owned by the Chinese government. Last week, Siderewicz’s company, Clean Energy Future, scrapped plans to build a $1.1 billion natural-gas plant in Lordstown; Siderewicz cited HB6 as the reason."

— jeremy Pelzer,

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FirstEnergy Solutions behind argument against Ohio nuclear subsidy referendum

Aug 27, 2019 10:15 AM

(Davis-Besse Power Plant / Wikimedia Commons)

COLUMBUS -- "A public records request confirms that FirstEnergy’s bankrupt generation subsidiary, FirstEnergy Solutions, is behind a tax argument being advanced to block a referendum on an Ohio bill granting subsidies to nuclear and coal plants.

Ohio lawmakers passed the nuclear and coal subsidy bill on July 23 despite widespread opposition from environmental groups, consumer advocates, renewable energy industry interests, petroleum industry interests, free market advocates and others. Six days later, a coalition of some of those interests filed its first proposed referendum against the bill, with an eye toward getting it on the ballot for November 2020.

Two days later, attorney John Zeiger of Columbus sent a letter and legal memorandum to the Ohio secretary of state’s office, arguing that House Bill 6 is a 'law providing for a tax levy' that would be exempt from the state constitution’s referendum procedures."

-- Kathiann M. Kowalski, Energy News Network

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