CLEVELAND (AP) — The Ohio Supreme Court on Monday issued a temporary stay to stop collection of a fee from nearly every electric customer in the state starting Jan. 1 to subsidize two nuclear power plants, a provision included in a scandal-tainted bill approved by the state Legislature in July 2019.
The order signed by Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor comes a week after a judge in Franklin County issued a preliminary injunction to stop collection of the fees.
Common Pleas Judge Chris Brown in his ruling from the bench last Monday said, “To not impose an injunction would be to allow certain parties to prevail. It would give the OK that bribery is allowed in the state of Ohio and that any ill-gotten gains can be received.
The Ohio Manufacturers’ Association appealed to the Supreme Court earlier this month after the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio in August cited the legislation known as HB6 in issuing an order approving collection of the fees and then refused to reconsider the group’s request for a new hearing.
The law calls for the plant’s new owner, Energy Harbor, to receive as much as $150 million a year and nearly $1 billion in total. Another $20 million a year from the fees are earmarked for five large solar projects, none of which are operational.
The maelstrom surrounding the subsidies began in late July when U.S. Attorney David DeVillers announced the arrests of then-Ohio House Speaker Larry Householder and four others for their roles in what he called the biggest bribery scandal in state history. Householder is accused of controlling an effort secretly funded by Akron-based FirstEnergy to win legislative approval for the nuclear plant subsidies and to stop a referendum on the bill.
The two nuclear plants in northern Ohio were operated by a wholly owned FirstEnergy subsidiary when HB6 was approved. Energy Harbor took ownership of the plants and other FirstEnergy assets in February as part of a deal struck in U.S. Bankruptcy Court.
A message seeking comment was left Monday with Energy Harbor representatives.
Kimberly Bojko, an attorney for the Manufacturers’ Association, called Monday’s ruling a “big win.”
“Customers should not be charged subsidies from a bill put in place under questionable circumstances,” Bojko said.
The Public Utilities Commission had until Dec. 22 to file a response to the Manufacturers’ Association appeal but did not do so. PUCO spokesperson Matt Schilling said Monday that he did not know whether the commission would be filing anything in the case going forward.
The PUCO is meeting Wednesday to discuss HB6 subsidies after Brown ordered the commission to revoke its authorization allowing fees to be collected.