One of Ohio’s largest utilities is moving forward with a plan to shut down its coal and nuclear power plants after filing for bankruptcy. The move has spurred action among its workers.
“There’s no way that Ohio can get by closing these two plants," said Laura Bruschi, a safety analysis engineer at the Davis-Besse Nuclear Plant in Ottawa County which is set to close in two years. She continued, “It’s a recipe for economic disaster.”
Bruschi and about a dozen fellow nuclear plant workers at Davis-Besse and the Perry Nuclear Plant in Lake County are donning hardhats and walking through the halls of the Statehouse. On those hardhats are stickers that say “Save My Job.”
They say there’s a bill in the Senate, SB128 that can do just that and they’re meeting with lawmakers to advocate for the legislation.
The bill, known as the Zero Emission Nuclear program, or ZEN for short, would allow FirstEnergy to subsidize its struggling nuclear plants by increasing charges to customers.
Dennis Schreiner is a supervisor of nuclear engineering programs at Davis-Besse. He says this funding boost is needed because it costs more to run a clean plant.
“Just like we’ve subsidized solar and wind because they are generally carbon free and they get a credit, they don’t call it a zero emissions credit but we give them a credit to put that technology into play why wouldn’t you want to do that for nuclear?” Schreiner asked.
FirstEnergy’s generation subsidiary, FirstEnergy Solutions, has not performed well in the capacity market. In other words, it’s not getting a high profit when their energy generation is sold into the grid. So for years the company has been looking for ways to subsidize its nuclear and coal plants.
Now FirstEnergy Solutions is filing for bankruptcy, announcing that its Davis-Besse plant will close in 2020 and the Perry plant will close in 2021, along with the closure of its coal plants.
Neil Waggoner with the Sierra Club of Ohio has been a vocal critic of FirstEnergy’s subsidy plans, calling them coal and nuclear bailouts.
"FirstEnergy has continuously made the wrong business decision and sought things like customer funded bailouts from the state and now federal level this is a bad business move for what they’ve been doing and they needed to change course way ahead of time and they chose not to,” said Waggoner.
There has been a mounting opposition against these so-called bailouts. That includes the Ohio Consumers’ Counsel, Ohio Manufacturing Association and the conservative think tank The Buckeye Institute. Opponents say this would force ratepayers to pay more in order to prop up power plants, going against the free market approach.
FirstEnergy Solutions declined to comment for this story, but referred to its statement announcing bankruptcy. In it, FirstEnergy Solutions said that it is seeking help from the U.S. Department of Energy and Secretary Rick Perry. The request said it qualifies for help under the Federal Power Act because its nuclear and coal plants provide fuel security and diversity.
But Waggoner argues that this is not what the Federal Power Act is for.
"FirstEnergy’s request to the [U.S.] Department of Energy is an illegal bailout request from the federal government the department of energy should not grant the bailout request and if they do grant that bailout request you can expect significant litigation fighting that,” said Waggoner.
“There’s not going to be any high-technical skilled jobs in Ottawa County.”
Back in the statehouse, Bruschi and her fellow nuclear plant workers reflect on what closing the Davis-Besse plant could mean for her community.
“It would turn it into a ghost town there would be nobody left.”
The nuclear credits bill saw some momentum last year but has not had a hearing since January. The bill’s sponsor made a plea to move the bill forward given FirstEnergy Solutions’ bankruptcy filing.
FirstEnergy Corporation says its transmission and distribution side, the one that sends power to homes, is stronger than ever and will not be affected by its generation bankruptcy.