Ohio needs a clean energy future, not a no-strings-attached bailout

It’s understandable that FirstEnergy’s hometown newspaper, the Akron Beacon Journal, supports its own utility monopoly. Yet justifying that support and advocating for FirstEnergy’s proposed nuclear bailout on environmental grounds is a surprise…and misdirected.

FirstEnergy’s proposal merely is yet another attempt to force customers to prop up its uneconomic power plants. Blanket subsidies for nuclear without any additional considerations will only delay the transition to a cleaner energy future, and we can’t afford to delay.

Background

FirstEnergy made numerous bad business decisions when it doubled down on coal-fired and nuclear power plants around the same time the cost of Ohio-based natural gas was falling. Since those old and uneconomic units can no longer compete in regional electricity markets, the utility has sought subsidies from Ohio legislators and regulators, as well as the federal government. Rather than trim its executive bonuses or shareholder dividends, FirstEnergy wants help from taxpayers or its customers.

Despite federal regulators blocking FirstEnergy’s original bailout attempt, the whack-a-mole utility keeps coming back with new ways to secure handouts. Its latest plea to the Ohio legislature features a $4-billion bailout for two uneconomic nuclear reactors. And although the utility has been fined repeatedly for environmental infractions, it suddenly has discovered an interest in fighting carbon pollution.

Lacking compromise

It’s certainly great to see FirstEnergy and the Akron Beacon Journal recognize the urgency of climate change and the importance of low-carbon energy to help us avoid the worst effects. Yet, that does not mean FirstEnergy’s nuclear proposal is the answer.

FirstEnergy has stubbornly refused to consider compromising or incorporating forward-looking elements like energy efficiency programs and solar job training into its nuclear proposal.

FirstEnergy points to zero-emission credits that Illinois legislators approved last year. Those credits, however, were part of a clean energy economic development package of monumental size, which is set to double the state’s energy efficiency portfolio and provide hundreds of millions for solar job training programs.

FirstEnergy has stubbornly refused to consider compromising or incorporating forward-looking elements like energy efficiency programs and solar job training into its nuclear proposal – instead insisting on a bailout that Ohioans must pay for years to come.

Clean energy promise

Ohio would be wise to prioritize other low- or no-carbon energy sources, rather than subsidize old nuclear plants. A 2016 report by Environmental Defense Fund and The Nature Conservancy showed that ramping up clean energy resources in Ohio would significantly enhance the economy, potentially leading to over 100,000 new jobs and over $5 billion in net benefits.

A recent report from the Government Accountability Office concluded that climate change already is costing U.S. taxpayers billions of dollars every year, and costs are expected to increase. The Akron Beacon Journal is right to suggest Ohio should be taking the realities of climate change into account when making energy decisions. But there are many other pathways – like advancing markets for energy efficiency and low-carbon renewable power – to take action. Ohio should pick a clean energy future, rather than granting FirstEnergy a no-strings-attached nuclear bailout that will raise electricity bills.

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