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Utility Company Bailouts Mean Larger Bills For Ohioans

Neil Waggoner speaking about how companies use wealth to win over politicians.
Kristin Stratman
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Screen Capture
Neil Waggoner speaking about how companies use wealth to win over politicians.

Advocates are pushing a senate bill that will provide Ohio utility customers refunds of fees paid to bail out companies.

Ohio political and environmental activists are asking the state legislature to repeal millions of dollars of bailouts to coal companies operating in the state.

House Bill 6 (HB6), which passed in 2019, gave billions of dollars in subsidies to several energy companies, including AES, the company that former called itself Dayton Power & Light. The funds came in the form of an upcharge on Ohioans’ electric bills.

Last summer, former Republican House Speaker Larry Householder was federally indicted on bribery charges in connection to House Bill 6. Evidence came out that he and four allies had received over sixty million dollars from FirstEnergy Corporation, now called Energy Harbor, in exchange for the passage of the bill.

The Ohio House of Representatives voted last Wednesday to expel Householder from his elected position. It is the first time the house has voted to oust a member in a hundred and fifty years.

As the house voted, a grassroots organization Ohio Citizens’ Action held a virtual discussion about repealing HB6.

At the discussion, Neil Waggoner, the leader of the Sierra Club’s Ohio Beyond Coal campaign, said large utility companies use their vast wealth and resources to win over politicians like Householder.

"Why are things like these bailouts ending up on our bills," said Waggoner, "It’s because of the money influence and the ability that these big utilities, big energy providers, big coal, big gas, big oil... they are happy to use every resource available to them to generate their own influence.”

Earlier this year, the Ohio legislature passed a bill that removed the bailout of nuclear energy companies from HB6. This removed the subsidies for the two nuclear plants owned by FirstEnergy, which now calls itself Energy Harbor. However, it did nothing to address the millions of dollars coal companies are still receiving in subsidies from HB6.

The bipartisan Senate Bill 117 was introduced in March. It would end the subsidies for coal power plants and refund customers for any money already collected for the bailout.

The Ohio Consumers’ Counsel reported that as of mid-June, almost $125 million in subsidies from HB6 had gone to the Ohio Valley Electric Corporation, or OVEC, which owns two coal power plants in Indiana and Ohio.

Waggoner said that although the charge on an individual energy bill seems small, when everyone in the state has to pay it adds up.

“We’re all paying $1.50 a month... that’s $232,000 a day, $700,000,000 over the next ten years, basically just to protect the corporate profits of three utilities in Ohio,” Waggoner said.

The Ohio Senate’s Energy and Public Utilities Committee is looking at Senate Bill 117 and will decide whether to put it forward for a vote. The committee held its second hearing for the legislation last Tuesday.