What do billionaire Charles Koch, Sierra Club, and API have in common?

By Jim Efstathiou Jr. on 5/23/2019
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Charles G. Koch, chairman of the board and CEO of Koch Industries Inc. Photo: Charles Koch Foundation.

NEW YORK (Bloomberg) -- The Sierra Club, the American Petroleum Institute and billionaire Charles Koch have found at least one thing to agree on: they hate Ohio’s plan to take away renewable power subsidies and give them to coal and nuclear plants.

The groups, normally at odds over energy issues, have all found elements to rail against in the “Ohio Clean Air Program." The Republican proposal would scuttle wind and solar quotas and establish a $190 million annual fund, primarily to bail out two reactors owned by bankrupt FirstEnergy Solutions Corp. A key vote could come as early as Thursday.

The move would be unprecedented. While New York, New Jersey and Illinois have all begun subsidizing nuclear power as part of their clean-energy strategies, Ohio would be the first to do so by directly yanking support from renewables. Environmentalists decry the move as an assault on wind and solar, while fossil fuel advocates warn it will drive up power prices and unfairly tilt markets. Both say it’s a blatant corporate “bail out.”

“It is cronyism on full display,” Micah Derry, Ohio director for the Koch-backed group Americans for Prosperity, told lawmakers at hearing earlier this month.

Fossil fuels rule

The stakes are high. Ohio has the fourth-highest retail power sales in the nation. But the state’s two reactors, which account for about 12% of its power generation, are struggling to stay afloat as cheap natural gas pulls down wholesale power prices. Without subsidies, FirstEnergy Solutions has said it will close the plants, which employ 2,200 people.

Republicans, who control both house of the Ohio legislature, say the measure will boost the state’s commitment to clean energy. Akron, Ohio-based FirstEnergy Solutions, which filed for Chapter 11 last year, heralds it for putting nuclear on a “level playing field” with wind and solar.

Environmentalists, meanwhile, blast the measure for scrapping the state’s goal to get 12.5% of electricity from renewables. The American Petroleum Institute says it would shortchange natural gas plants. And Ohio’s largest utility, American Electric Power Co., warned that a bailout for a single company wouldn’t benefit customers at large.

“Bill sponsors put together a package that is massively unpopular for many different reasons,’’ said Neil Waggoner, an Ohio representative for the Sierra Club.

Walkout

Debates have been so contentions that Democrats briefly walked out of a hearing earlier this month after they were barred from questioning a witness.

In a push to shore up support from Republicans and utilities, the bill’s sponsors expanded the measure this week to provide support for two coal plants owned by the Ohio Valley Electric Corporation, whose owners include American Electric Power.

“This dramatic shift in strategy shows that House Speaker Larry Householder has lost hope in getting Democrats on board and is opting to bolster support with powerful utilities to attract additional Republicans,’’ Height Securities analyst Josh Price wrote in a research note Thursday.

A hearing on the bill before a Ohio House of Representatives committee is scheduled for Thursday, where lawmakers may vote whether to advance it.

State Representative David Leland, a Democrat from Columbus, said in a Tweet Wednesday that the bill ‘has gone from bad to worse.”

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