Ohio lawmakers going over House Speaker’s head to repeal coal plant subsidies in corruption-linked HB 6

Ohio House session
Posted at 8:08 PM, Jun 05, 2023

COLUMBUS, Ohio — 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, a move that comes as former House Speaker Larry Householder awaits his sentencing in the largest corruption scandal in state history.

A discharge petition has been filed to put HB 120 on the floor. It would repeal scandal-ridden HB 6.

Fast Facts

A 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H.B. 6 mainly benefited FirstEnergy's struggling nuclear power plants, which provisions were later repealed.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.

RELATED: Lead Householder juror explains why trial 'left sour taste' in his mouth

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.

RELATED: Difficult to escape Larry Householder’s influence at Ohio Statehouse, even ahead of corruption trial

Stephens and his team did not respond to News 5, but told 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 News 5 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.

Follow WEWS statehouse reporter Morgan Trau on Twitter and Facebook.