Continued House Bill 6 fallout has Ohio lawmakers scrambling

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solar panels in a field

House Bill 6 is the gift that keeps on giving. It may have bailed out Ohio’s nuclear plants, but it cost the state significant investments in renewable energy, business leaders say.

“It’s costing Ohio jobs and growth,” said Gary Easton, founder and chief executive officer of Appalachian Renewable Power, based in Stewart, Ohio, during a Nov. 16 online panel. “That money isn’t not being spent. It’s being spent in other places.”

It also cost Ohio its head utilities regulator. The chairman of the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio resigned Nov. 20, four days after FBI agents executed a search warrant on his home.

PUCO chief resigns

Gov. Mike DeWine announced Sam Randazzo’s resignation. Randazzo said in his resignation letter to DeWine that “the impression left by an FBI raid on our home, the statement included in FirstEnergy Corp’s filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission … and the accompanying publicity will, right or wrong, fuel suspicions about and controversy over decision I may render in my current capacity.”

The FBI would not say what the investigation was related to, but it’s believed to be connected to the passage of House Bill 6, the legislation passed last summer that bailed out two nuclear power plants to the tune of $1 billion and dramatically changed the state’s energy policy.

FirstEnergy reported Nov. 19, in a filing to the Securities and Exchange Commission, that some former executives improperly paid a firm tied to a future Ohio utility regulator about $4 million early 2019 to terminate “a purported consulting agreement” in place since 2013. Randazzo wasn’t named by FirstEnergy, but the Associated Press reported that he fits the filing’s description.

DeWine appointed him as chairman of the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio and the Ohio Power Siting Board in February 2019. It’s one of the most powerful positions in state government, according to the Associated Press.

Federal authorities allege HB6 became law as part of a $60 million bribery scheme involving FirstEnergy, former House Speaker Larry Householder and four other people. In addition to the nuclear bailout, HB 6 gutted the state’s renewable energy and energy efficiency standards for utilities and gave out subsidies for coal plants and large utility scale solar farms.

Repeal efforts

Several different pieces of legislation have been introduced to fully or partially repeal HB6, but no action has been taken yet. Legislators have until session ends Dec. 31 to do something before Ohioians start to pay for the energy industry subsidies through a $2.35 fee tacked onto their electric bills on Jan. 1.

Attorney General Dave Yost filed suit Nov. 13 to stop the collection of those charges, saying the “people of Ohio are about to be shaken down for money they should not have to pay based on how HB 6 was enacted.”

Randazzo’s resignation has more people and groups, including State Rep. David Leland, Ohio Consumer Power Alliance and Ohio Citizen Action, calling for a repeal of HB 6.

Business leaders met virtually Nov. 16 to call for the immediate repeal of HB 6 after they said there were no opportunities for them to virtually testify on repeal legislation. The group said the bill is costing the state significant investment from the renewable energy industry and made the state a laughingstock.

“I’d like to be proud of Ohio,” said Geoff Greenfield, president of Third Sun Solar, in Athens, Ohio. “I’d like to brag about our forward looking legislature… and not be laughed at at national conferences.”

Becky Campbell, manager of government affairs for First Solar, told Farm and Dairy the company chose to exit the vast majority of solar projects that were being developed in Ohio, after HB 6 was passed. First Solar is the largest manufacturer of solar panels in the U.S. and develops utility scale solar projects. The company was founded in Ohio and all of its manufacturing takes place at two facilities in Ohio.

HB6 created a lot of uncertainty in the market. It sent a signal that solar and other renewables, like wind, weren’t wanted in the state.

“We don’t want to develop projects where the technology isn’t wanted,” Campbell told Farm and Dairy.

Campbell said a repeal of the legislation would give developers confidence in the renewables market in Ohio once again and create opportunity.

A group of 48 businesses, investors and trade associations sent a letter to DeWine and members of the Ohio legislature in August urging the repeal of the legislation. The list included energy companies and Fortune 500 brands like General Mills, IKEA, Clif Bar, Burton and Nestle.

(Reporter Rachel Wagoner can be contacted at 800-837-3419 or rachel@farmanddairy.com. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

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Rachel is a reporter with Farm and Dairy and a graduate of Clarion University of Pennsylvania. She married a fourth-generation beef and sheep farmer and settled down in her hometown in Beaver County. Before coming to Farm and Dairy, she worked at several daily and weekly newspapers throughout Western Pennsylvania covering everything from education and community news to police and courts.

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