Ohio bill to reform electric rates aims to preserve coal plant subsidies under attack in wake of corruption probe

This Avon Lake Power Plant, a 680.0-megawatt (MW) coal-fired power station near Avon Lake, Ohio, is scheduled to fully close in September of 2021. In 2011, the Environmental Protection Agency found GenOn (then owner) and its Avon Lake coal power plant guilty of excessive ozone emissions, and the plant’s coal unit 7 and coal unit 9 were scheduled for deactivation by April 2015. These units continue to operate today under a Mercury and Air Toxics extension granted by the Ohio EPA (source: Global Energy Monitor; Photo by Bien Stephenson).

A plan to end Ohio’s long-criticized Electric Security Plans comes from a primary sponsor of HB 6, the 2019 law at the heart of a $60 million corruption case.

By Kathiann M. Kowalski

This story is from the Energy News Network in collaboration with Eye on Ohio, the nonprofit, nonpartisan Ohio Center for Journalism. Please join Eye on Ohio’s  free mailing list or the mailing list for the Energy News Network as this helps Eye on Ohio and The Tremonster provide more public service reporting.

A new plan is on the table to phase out rate programs that have let Ohio’s electric utilities collect billions in subsidies over the past dozen years. But the bill aims to continue coal plant subsidies and cuts authority for utility energy efficiency programs. 

Critics also worry that vague wording will continue cross-subsidies in another guise.

For years, consumer advocates, environmental organizations and conservative groups have pushed to end so-called Electric Security Plans, or ESPs, which allow utilities to add riders and other charges without full regulatory review. Many of those produced cross-subsidies that ratepayers can’t avoid.

In one extreme example, a Cleveland neighborhood group received a $70 monthly bill in 2019 for a single lamppost, with only 38 cents going to electricity.

A 2017 bill tried to end the practice, but it stalled in the Ohio House.

Now, House Bill 317 would slash statutory provisions for the plans. The bill, introduced last month, comes from Rep. Shane Wilkin, R-Hillsboro. Wilkin was a primary sponsor of HB 6, the 2019 nuclear and coal bailout law that also gutted the state’s clean energy standards. And it aimed to recession-proof” utilities by letting them guarantee revenue levels under their 2018 Electric Security Plans.

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