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News and Analysis

Jenifer French Picked to Lead PUCO

March 26, 2021

Gov. Mike DeWine has appointed Jenifer French as chair of the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio (PUCO). A former Franklin County Common Pleas Court judge, French is filling the vacancy left by Sam Randazzo, who resigned in November after an FBI search of his home related to the House Bill 6 investigation. 3/22/2021

Pennsylvania Cracker Plant Will Boost Plastics Supply

March 26, 2021

Amid the current plastics shortage, there’s some good news from across the state border as Shell Pennsylvania Chemicals’ cracker plant in Beaver County, Pennsylvania will reportedly be fully operational next year. Thanks to the plentiful natural gas reserves of the Marcellus and Utica shale plays, this is the first U.S. cracker operation built outside of the Gulf Coast in more than two decades. 3/22/2021

HB 6 Scandal Reverberates

March 19, 2021

This week, former U.S. Attorney David DeVillers addressed the governing board of the Office of the Ohio Consumers’ Counsel (OCC). DeVillers said he expects to see many more charges stemming from the federal bribery investigation into the House Bill 6 scandal, according to Cincinnati.com (subscription).

Also presenting at the OCC board meeting was John Seryak, the OMA’s energy technical consultant, who provided his analysis on subsidies to coal power plants, including HB 6’s OVEC subsidies, which constituted a third giveaway to utilities. The OMA continues to call for the repeal of the OVEC subsidies.

Also this week, longtime Statehouse lobbyist Neil Clark was found dead outside his Florida home. Clark was one of five people — including former House Speaker Larry Householder — charged last summer with racketeering by federal prosecutors. Meanwhile, billionaire financier Carl Icahn has reached a deal with FirstEnergy to ensure his firm has two seats on FirstEnergy’s board. 3/18/2021

Bill Would Prohibit Local Energy Bans

March 19, 2021

This week, Rep. Al Cutrona (R-Canfield) gave sponsor testimony on House Bill 192, which would prevent local governments from prohibiting or limiting:

  • the use of fossil fuels for electricity generation; and
  • the construction or use of a pipeline to transport oil or gas.

Rep. Cutrona said the bill is intended “to prevent possible rate increases for those throughout the state and the Mahoning Valley.” 3/18/2021

States Sue Biden for Revoking Keystone XL Permit

March 19, 2021

Ohio is part of a coalition of 21 states suing the Biden administration over its decision to stop construction of the Keystone XL oil pipeline. The lawsuit argues that revoking the cross-border permit is a regulation of interstate and international commerce that should be left to Congress, and that President Biden’s decision was arbitrary and capricious. 3/18/2021

Natural Gas Spot Prices Approached Record Highs in February

March 19, 2021

Last month, natural gas spot prices at several U.S. trading hubs approached record highs due to winter weather. According to the Energy Information Administration, at the benchmark Henry Hub, prices soared to $23.86 per million British thermal units (MMBtu), the highest real (inflation-adjusted) price since February 2003. Henry Hub prices averaged $5.49/MMBtu last month, the highest monthly average since February 2014. 3/15/2021

House and Senate Have Now Approved Repeal of HB 6 Nuclear Subsidies, Decoupling

March 12, 2021

This week, the Ohio House voted 86-7 to approve OMA-supported House Bill 128, legislation to repeal up to $150 million a year in nuclear generation subsidies authorized by House Bill 6. Also included in HB 128 are a repeal and refund of HB 6’s decoupling provisions and the “significantly excessive earnings” language authorized in the last state budget (HB 166) – both changes that benefited FirstEnergy.

The bill now goes to the Senate, which last week passed a similar repeal (Senate Bill 44). According to Gongwer News Service, Senate President Matt Huffman (R-Lima) has said he won’t object if House leaders want HB 128 to be the lead vehicle for HB 6 subsidies repeal. “At this point, I think it’s a matter of getting that issue behind us,” he said.

Meanwhile, Sen. Mark Romanchuk (R-Mansfield) has introduced two more bills to address HB 6 policy. Senate Bill 117 would repeal HB 6 subsidies for Ohio Valley Electric Corp. (OVEC) coal plants — including one in Indiana — and refund customers for those charges. Senate Bill 118 would repeal the up to $20 million a year in subsidies for five utility-scale solar projects. 3/10/2021

FirstEnergy Chooses Strah as CEO as PUCO Launches Another Review

March 12, 2021

FirstEnergy this week named Steven Strah as its new CEO, as the company continues to make changes amid the ongoing House Bill 6 scandal. Strah has been acting CEO since Chuck Jones was terminated last fall for his ties to HB 6. Meanwhile, the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio this week issued an order to update instructions to auditors who are reviewing FirstEnergy’s Delivery Capital Recovery rider – making it the fourth review of the company stemming from the HB 6 scandal. 3/8/2021

Senate Passes Repeal of HB 6 Nuclear Subsidies

March 5, 2021

On March 3, the Ohio Senate approved Senate Bill 44, legislation that repeals the nuclear generation subsidies authorized under House Bill 6. In its report, Gongwer News remarked: “The Senate’s unanimous passage of SB 44 marks a sharp contrast to two years ago when lawmakers were told the up to $150 million a year in state support was needed to stave off closure of two Energy Harbor plants.”

Meanwhile, the House continues work on its own plan to repeal the HB 6 nuke subsides via House Bill 128. Speaker Bob Cupp (R-Lima) has said that HB 128 could receive a committee and floor vote next week. The OMA supports both SB 44 and HB 128, but has called on lawmakers to senators to “finish the job” by also repealing costly customer-paid subsidies for coal power plants owned by OVEC. 3/4/2021

Increased Scrutiny on FirstEnergy Payment to Former PUCO Chair

March 5, 2021

Andrew Tobias of Cleveland.com has reported on a previously unnoticed disclosure by FirstEnergy that sheds additional light on the company’s $4.3 million payment to Sam Randazzo, the former chair of the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio (PUCO), shortly before he took the job as the state’s top utility regulator.

In legal disclosures filed in November, FirstEnergy said the January 2019 payment led to “conduct corresponding to such payment” — and to that person “acting at the request or for the benefit of FirstEnergy as a consequence of receiving such payment.”

According to Cleveland.com, FirstEnergy said the payment was a “non-compliance” event that violated its terms with the banks that lend it money, as was conduct by FirstEnergy officials “during the time period after such payment during which the individual was acting in any governmental or regulatory capacity.” 3/4/2021