The Ohio Supreme Court on Monday issued a temporary stay to stop collection of a fee from nearly every electric customer in the state starting New Year’s Day to subsidize two nuclear power plants, a provision included in the scandal-tainted bill known as House Bill 6, which was approved by the state legislature in July 2019.
The order signed by Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor comes a week after a judge issued a preliminary injunction to stop collection of the fees.
Franklin County Common Pleas Court Judge Chris Brown, in his ruling from the bench on Monday, said, “To not impose an injunction would be to allow certain parties to prevail. It would give the OK that bribery is allowed in the state of Ohio and that any ill-gotten gains can be received.”
According to state Rep. Shane Wilkin (R-Hillsboro), he and fellow representative Jamie Callender (R-Concord Township) introduced HB 6 on April 12, 2019 to create the Ohio Clean Air Program, with the original intention of offering an alternative way to encourage cleaner energy production in Ohio.
“There is absolutely no doubt that the two northern Ohio nuclear plants are the biggest beneficiaries of this bill,” Wilkin said previously. “But this bill also supports utility-scale solar power, which will be a direct benefit to our district for our schools and Highland County.”
As previously reported in The Times-Gazette, consumers would have seen an extra 85 cents a month charge on their electric bill starting on New Year’s Day, with 90 percent of the estimated $150 million annual revenue going to Energy Harbor, the new owners of the Davis-Besse and Perry nuclear plants on the shores of Lake Erie.
The remaining funds generated by the fee, about $20 million annually through the end of 2027, were intended to support five large-scale solar projects being developed in the state, none of which are operational.
The Hillcrest Solar Farm is the only solar power facility currently under construction in southern Ohio, according to a Dec. 10 status map from the Ohio Power Siting Board.
Located on Greenbush-East Road between Buford and U.S Route 68, about four miles north of Mount Orab, Hillcrest occupies 1,350 acres of land and upon completion, will be a 200-megawatt solar electric power generating complex.
A company spokesman for contractor PCL told The Times-Gazette that construction was progressing on schedule and weather permitting, would be completed in the next few months.
The Ohio Manufacturers’ Association (OMA) appealed to the Supreme Court earlier this month after the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio in August cited the legislation known as House Bill 6 in issuing an order approving collection of the fees, and then refused to reconsider the group’s request for a new hearing.
The maelstrom surrounding the subsidies began in late July when U.S. Attorney David DeVillers announced the arrests of then-Ohio House Speaker Larry Householder and four others for their roles in what he called the biggest bribery scandal in state history.
Householder is accused of controlling an effort secretly funded by Akron-based FirstEnergy to win legislative approval for the nuclear plant subsidies and to stop a referendum on the bill.
The two nuclear plants in northern Ohio were operated by a wholly owned FirstEnergy subsidiary when HB 6 was approved.
Energy Harbor took ownership of the plants and other FirstEnergy assets in February as part of a deal struck in U.S. Bankruptcy Court.
Kimberly Bojko, an attorney for the OMA, called Monday’s ruling a “big win,” adding that “customers should not be charged subsidies from a bill put in place under questionable circumstances.”
The PUCO had until Dec. 22 to file a response to the OMA appeal, but did not do so.
PUCO spokesperson Matt Schilling said Monday that he did not know whether the commission would be filing anything in the case going forward.
The PUCO is meeting Wednesday to discuss HB 6 subsidies after Brown ordered the commission to revoke its authorization allowing fees to be collected.
The Associated Press contributed to this story.
Reach Tim Colliver at 937-402-2571.