COLUMBUS, OH — What has been dubbed by Vox and other news as “the worst energy bill of the 21st century” has put Ohio behind in the transition to renewable energy.
Ohio House Bill 6 is energy legislation that provided bailouts in the form of subsidies to two nuclear power plants and two coal power plants. The bill also reformed energy efficiency standards in the state.
The legislation passed by a slim margin in 2019 after a multi-million-dollar bribery scandal. The scandal involved several Ohio politicians including former speaker of the house Larry Householder (R-Glenford) who was expelled from the Ohio House of Representatives in early June for allegedly taking bribes from the corporation FirstEnergy.
In light of investigations, the bill has made some steps toward repeal, and Ohio politicians like Rep. Casey Weinstein (D-Hudson) continue their work to overturn the legislation.
“House Bill 6, to me, is the epitome of corruption,” Weinstein said. “It’s what you get when you have one-party rule for a really long time in a state.”
Joseph Ortiz, a geology professor at Kent State University, said the bill set Ohio back by providing subsidies to aging coal and nuclear power plants while also placing limitations on renewable energy.
“Ohio House Bill 6 is a bill that was passed to try and provide subsidies to the nuclear power plants and to the coal-fired power plants,” Ortiz said. “What came to light after the passage of that bill, was that there was a campaign by a company, FirstEnergy, to provide bribes to members of the House and Senate for their support of the bill.”
Even beyond the legality of the scandal, the terms of the bill are unpopular. In a poll from August 2020, it was found that a majority of Ohio voters support the repeal of House Bill 6.
“If you look at the actual terms within the bill, there were several things there that are problematic about it. The plan was to extend the life of the FirstEnergy nuclear power stations, which are beyond their retirement age,” Ortiz said. “In addition to that, hundreds of millions of dollars from the funds for House Bill 6, that would have come from Ohio taxpayers and citizens, was going to go out of state to support coal-fired power plants that aren’t even within Ohio.”
The bill also reversed Ohio Renewable Energy Standards and Energy Efficiency Standards by putting up barriers to investments in renewable energy.
“We are actively from a policy perspective making it more difficult to do solar and wind while subsidizing legacy fuel generation… we had a renewable energy industry with 78,000 jobs and growing that we have stopped incentivizing,” Weinstein explains. “Ohioans are spending 233,000 dollars a day for a form of dirty energy that is outdated and uncompetitive, with one of these coal plants being in Indiana.”
In 2019, the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy published an updated 50-state scorecard on energy efficiency. Ohio has fallen in its ranking since the passage of House Bill 6 when the state had previously been a leader in efficiency.
After investigations, the FBI revealed that FirstEnergy paid around 60 million dollars in bribes to politicians like Householder and other coconspirators, making it the largest public utility scandal in Ohio history.
“Really for FirstEnergy, at least at the time, this was part of their business,” Weinstein said. “This is my opinion: they invested a certain amount of money in the political process in corruption and they got huge returns from it. When you think about it, they spent about 50 million dollars on House Bill 6 and they got 800 million dollars in return, in the form of a bailout.”
FirstEnergy communications consultant Tricia Ingraham said the company is cooperating with law enforcement on the investigation.
“We are committed to taking decisive actions to rebuild our reputation and focus on the future, and we continue to cooperate with the ongoing government investigations,” she said.
Ingraham said the company is working independently towards carbon neutrality goals, following programs outlined in their Strategic Plan and Corporate Responsibility Report as well as their carbon neutrality pledge.
According to Ortiz, the damage of House Bill 6 will have lasting effects.
“If you look at the states around us, there are many states in the Midwest and upper Midwest that are investing in renewables, whether it be wind or solar,” he said. “It’s unfortunate that Ohio has taken this tact of trying to prevent deployment of renewables because it’s something that will help the environment, will help our climate, but also will help Ohioans by generating jobs for installation and manufacturing opportunities that we shouldn’t be passing up.”