Brace yourselves, Ohio, for another whole holler-fest around House Bill 6, the recently passed law using Ohioans’ electric bills to bail out two nuclear power plants plus a couple of coal plants. It also will boost a few specific solar-energy projects but otherwise decimate clean-energy development in the state.
Unsurprisingly, the law has enough opposition that a campaign was mounted quickly to subject it to a ballot referendum. Equally unsurprisingly, HB 6 backers plan to fight the referendum effort.
If the law’s opponents succeed in getting the 265,774 valid petition signatures they need by Oct. 21 to put the issue on the November 2020 ballot, we can all expect a hard-fought campaign with a barrage of ads like those we saw while the General Assembly was debating the bill. Obnoxious ad wars are standard for high-profile ballot issues.
In this case, though, those who want to see the bailout bill survive aren’t even waiting for an election campaign; they’re spending money to keep an election from happening. A new group called Ohioans for Energy Security is running an ad urging people not to sign the referendum petition.
The ad is a masterpiece of misdirection, casting the referendum effort as an attempt by the Chinese government to take over Ohioans’ electric power. "They took our manufacturing jobs. They shuttered our factories," the classic ominous campaign-ad voice intones. "Now, they’re coming for our energy jobs."
Random scenes of Chinese officials and ceremonies and you-should-be-scared music as from a suspense-film trailer complete the effect.
It’s silly enough to be a parody of political ads, but unfortunately it reflects the state of public debate on this issue.
Here are some facts:
? The effort to overturn the bailout bill is funded largely by the natural gas industry, which will benefit if the nuclear plants close and, yes, some natural gas companies have financing from the Chinese national bank. And guess what: So does First Energy, a primary HB 6 fan and opponent of the referendum.
It’s hard to say which is worse, the scaremongering or the hypocrisy.
? Opposition to HB 6 isn’t limited to the gas interests. Those who want to see Ohio develop a thriving clean-energy economy also oppose its gutting of most clean-energy incentives. And plenty of people object in principle to making ratepayers bail out power plants that failed through bad management.
? Keeping the nuclear plants open, i.e. rejecting a referendum and letting HB 6 stand, would save some Ohio jobs, mainly the 1,400 or so people who work at the Perrysburg and Davis-Besse plants. But this argument ignores the uncounted jobs and investment that clean energy could bring to Ohio, if only the General Assembly would stop undermining the nascent industry at every turn.
Passage of HB 6 already is affecting other electricity options for Ohioans. Clean Energy Future, an interest that has natural gas plants in northwest Ohio and had invested $1 million toward developing another $1.1 billion facility in Lordstown, said last week it is scrapping those plans. Another company, LS Power, said previously that it would cancel a $500 million expansion of its plant in Luckey, Ohio.
HB 6 bails out two nuclear power plants by giving its owners nearly $1 billion, and that will save 1,400 jobs for now. The bill also does a lot to damage Ohio’s future, and Ohioans have good reason to second-guess the legislature’s actions.