As lawmakers dig into future of Ohio’s energy sector, nuclear officials warn against allowing plant closures

Diversifying Ohio’s energy production portfolio could create new jobs and help keep utility prices steady for ratepayers.

A discussion on the topic before the House Energy and Natural Resources Subcommittee on Energy Generation came this week as an operator of two nuclear plants in Ohio works to emerge from bankruptcy.

Akron-based FirstEnergy Solutions, which filed for bankruptcy in March 2018, plans to close a pair of its nuclear plants in Ohio – Davis-Besse Nuclear Power Station in Oak Harbor near Toledo in 2020 and Perry Nuclear Power Plant in Perry in 2021.

“Our business plan now is to continue to own and operate those facilities,” said Dave Griffing, vice president of government relations for First Energy Solutions. “… What we haven’t been able to communicate is operating them beyond … our currently communicated decommissioning dates.”

Nuclear units nationwide, including the two in Ohio, are struggling to recover their costs, Griffing told committee members. He pinpointed several reasons, including abundant natural gas supplies, flat demand for electricity and credits for renewable energy.

Nuclear is responsible for 14.1 percent of Ohio’s electricity. Allowing the two plants to close will cost the average customer approximately $35 per year more between 2022 and 2029, as higher-cost fossil units may replace them, Griffing told committee members.

It could make the state less energy independent, Griffing warned.

The topic of the health of the nuclear industry has been a fraught one across the country, as nuclear bailouts in Illinois and New Jersey have drawn criticism from those who see governments favoring one energy segment over others. Advocacy groups have emerged in states like Ohio and Pennsylvania seeking to oppose nuclear bailouts, and legislation introduced recently in Illinois has been described as a second bailout.

However, on the renewable energy front, representatives from Hecate Energy, a Chicago-based company that develops solar and other energy projects, said solar power could help bring new jobs to the state, particularly in the southern portion of Ohio, and even export electricity.

“There is not enough flat room, flat space, flat land in markets like Virginia where a lot of data centers are going,” Paul Turner, vice president of Business Development for Hecate Energy, told committee members. “So, just like corn, just like soybeans, just like cars that are manufactured in Ohio, electricity can be exported out of Ohio, making the state, which is currently a net importer, to now become a net exporter and sell your product to other markets.”

Meanwhile, installing anaerobic digesters at water resource recovery facilities (WRRF), also known as wastewater treatment plants, in the Buckeye State allows them to generate biogas for conversion to electricity or motor fuel. That, in turn, can provide revenue streams that cover the cost of improvements without the need to increase rates.

“Unlike other projects we read about that result in double-digit rate increases, digester projects generate enough revenue and result in enough cost reduction to pay for the project,” Alan Johnson, vice president of project management and development for Quasar Energy Group, testified.

“These projects can be paid for from the savings in operational costs and revenue from tipping fees,” Johnson added.

Quasar is updating a WRRF plant in Waterville. When it comes online this summer, the project will manage enough biomass to meet its plants’ needs, which equals the demands of 830 houses, and deliver a net annual energy savings of roughly $700,000, Johnson told committee members.