Ohio lawmakers plan repeal of scandal-ridden coal plant subsidies

Plant in House Speaker’s district leads lawmakers to file discharge petition to go over his head

By: - June 7, 2023 4:55 am

COLUMBUS, Ohio — MAY 24: House Speaker Rep. Jason Stephens, R-Kitts Hill, holds the gavel during the Ohio House session, May 24, 2023, at the Statehouse in Columbus, Ohio. (Photo by Graham Stokes for Ohio Capital Journal. Republish photo only with original story.)

Ohio lawmakers are going over the House speaker’s head to repeal the scandal-ridden bill that forces ratepayers to spend millions funding “dirty” coal plants.

While former House Speaker Larry Householder awaits his sentencing in the largest corruption scandal in state history, a third of the Ohio House is considering repealing the remaining parts of the bill that helped make him and his coconspirators rich.

jury found that Householder and former GOP leader Matt Borges, beyond a reasonable doubt, participated in the largest public corruption case in state history, a racketeering scheme that left four men guilty and another dead by suicide.

Householder passed a nearly $61 million scheme to pass a billion-dollar bailout, House Bill 6, at the expense of taxpayers and at the benefit of his pockets.

H.B. 6 mainly benefited FirstEnergy’s struggling nuclear power plants, which provisions were later repealed. There are remaining aspects of the bill still in place, though.

The Ohio Valley Electric Corporation (OVEC) also got a handout from the scandal. It expanded a bailout of the OVEC plants and required Ohioans to pay for them. The main beneficiaries from this were American Electric Power Company (AEP), Duke Energy and AES Ohio.

Householder and Borges will be sentenced at 1 p.m. on June 29 and 11 a.m. on June 30, respectively, according to court documents.

The legislation

House Bill 120 would eliminate subsidies for two 1950s-era OVEC coal plants. It would also require full repayments of revenues collected under the H.B. 6 OVEC subsidy.

“It killed off our renewable energy standard and our energy efficiency standards and left us with two old coal plants that are non-competitive that we’ve been bailing out ever since the bill passed,” said state Rep. Casey Weinstein (D-Hudson). “Ohioans are propping up these dirty, old, uncompetitive coal plants.”

Weinstein, along with 32 other representatives, has put forward H.B. 120 to stop ratepayers from funding the coal plant in Southern Ohio and the other that is in Indiana, a coal plant that atlases confirm is not even in this state.

“It is an absolute shame and embarrassment to me that we have not completely wiped off these illegal acts from the books,” Weinstein added. “And unfortunately, Ohioans are paying for it still.”

Ratepayers have already paid about $400 million for the plants, according to the Ohio Consumers Counsel. That’s more than $130,000 a day, and it is expected to reach $850 million by 2030.

Despite bipartisan support to repeal the subsidies, this bill and others from the last General Assembly have failed to go anywhere.

“These two coal plants are… operating pursuant to a federal program and losing money,” Senate President Matt Huffman (R-Lima) said in March.

Huffman isn’t in favor of repealing all of H.B. 6, because he opposes returning to the prior clean energy standards. But he would be willing to consider getting rid of the coal subsidies if the plants don’t actually need the money.

“Are they still operating at a loss?” Huffman asked. “They’re not, then, yeah, we should repeal the subsidies.”

There would have to be research done on the plants’ profits, he added.

Republicans in favor of H.B. 120 say the House is the real problem, not the Senate.

Road to nowhere

Speaker Jason Stephens (R-Kitts Hill) has one of the coal plants in his district and has shown no signs of wanting to repeal the bailouts.

“The ratepayers have been taken advantage of in Ohio by these utility companies for far too long,” state Rep. Derek Merrin (R-Monclova) said.

Merrin, who is at odds with Stephens, accuses the speaker of being influenced by utility companies.

“A lot of the utility lobbyists that support the subsidies were behind Jason Stephens’ speaker campaign, just like they were behind Larry Householder,” Merrin said. “I think it’s the special interests of the utility companies that effectively have control of the speaker.”

There are numerous members of House leadership and high-up staffers who have a history of working with Householder, including ones who were made to testify during the corruption trial.

Stephens and his team did not respond to OCJ/WEWS, but told Cleveland.com/The Plain Dealer that the OVEC plant was “very beneficial” to his district and “very beneficial to the state of Ohio and [regional power grid] from the standpoint of baseload power.”

“Based on Speaker Stephens’s prior comments… it’s unlikely that this bill will be taken up by the House of Representatives,” a representative for AEP told OCJ/WEWS when asked about their thoughts on H.B. 120.

OVEC did not respond to comment.

For additional context, both Stephens and Merrin voted against expelling Householder. Merrin voted in favor of H.B. 6. Stephens was chosen by Householder once former speaker Ryan Smith was ousted by the now-convicted felon and came after the H.B. 6 vote.

Road to somewhere

Merrin and his team, after talks with Democrats, filed Tuesday to discharge the bill from the committee, the Republican said. Meaning, with enough signatures, the legislation would move immediately to a full House vote, superseding the speaker.

“I’m confident that there are 50 votes to repeal,” Merrin said.

If all 32 Democrats vote for the repeal, which is likely, only 18 Republicans are needed. Merrin’s faction of the GOP has more than 18 people.

Whether the Merrin squad is in favor of repealing because they don’t like corporate subsidies, they don’t like H.B. 6 or they just want to mess with Stephens (or a combination of the options), the Democrats seem willing to accept the unlikely allies.

“There is an intransigent group of folks, a lot of whom have taken a lot of money, frankly, from energy interests and who are refusing to move the bill,” Weinstein added. “That’s why we’re looking at potentially doing alternate paths to get this to the floor because I think Ohioans should have their legislators on the record and they deserve a vote on this bill.”

OCJ/WEWS reached out to Speaker Stephens about possibly being outvoted. He and his team did not respond.


This article was originally published on News5Cleveland.com and is published in the Ohio Capital Journal under a content-sharing agreement. Unlike other OCJ articles, it is not available for free republication by other news outlets as it is owned by WEWS in Cleveland.

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Morgan Trau
Morgan Trau

Morgan Trau is a political reporter and multimedia journalist based out of the WEWS Columbus Bureau. A graduate of Syracuse University’s S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications, Trau has previously worked as an investigative, political and fact-checking reporter in Grand Rapids, Mich. at WZZM-TV; a reporter and MMJ in Spokane, Wash. at KREM-TV and has interned at 60 Minutes and worked for CBS Interactive and PBS NewsHour.