Bob Sheak, August 3, 2020
A devious, criminal plan to bailout two uncompetitive nuclear plants at the expense of taxpayers
On July 22, 2020, the public learned that federal agents had arrested one of the most powerful officials in Ohio state government, Larry Householder the Republican House speaker, along with a former state Republican Party chairman and three other people, with other charges pending. They were said to be involved in what is described as a $60 million scheme to bail out a foundering energy company, Energy Harbor, formerly First Energy Solutions. The federal criminal complaint appears to focus on the former parent corporation, First Energy Corp, or, in the affidavit, “Company A.” The specific “offense” is “Conspiracy to Participate, Directly or Indirectly, in the Conduct of an Enterprise’s Affairs through a Pattern of Racketeering Activity.” Racketeering includes:
“(A) [A]ny act or threat involving…bribery[,]…which is chargeable under State law and punishable by imprisonment for more than one year; (B) any act which is indictable under…title 18, United States Code: …section 1343 (relating to wire fraud)…section 1951 (relating to interference with commerce, robbery or extortion), section1952 (relating to racketeering)….section 1956 (relating to engaging in monetary instruments), section 1957 (relating to engaging in monetary transactions in property derived from specified unlawful activity)…”
First Energy is “a public utility holding company for its subsidiaries.” As such, it “directs and controls the various subsidiary entities” under its control. Over a three-year period, from March 2017 to March 2020, the company is alleged to have channeled $60,866,835.86 in secret payments directly to a 501(c) 4 entity, called Generation Now, a dark-money entity controlled by Larry householder. On February 6, 2017 or thereabouts, Generation Now was “registered with the IRS as a 501(c) 4, which is an IRS designation for a tax-exempt, social welfare organization,” in which the names and addresses of contributors are secret. This money and money from other corporations and entities was used to support efforts by Householder and his co-conspirators to develop and implement a scheme to have taxpayers pay higher utility rates to keep two aging, noncompetitive, and unprofitable Ohio nuclear power plants, Besse-Davis and Perry from being shut down. The two plants were under the management of First Energy Solutions, a subsidiary of First Energy. The subsidiary filed for bankruptcy in 2018 and was divested from Company A in February 2020 and in the process changed its name to Energy Harbor.
Giulia McDonnell Nieto Del Rio quotes David M. Devillers, the FBI attorney for the Southern District of Ohio, who at a news conference on July 22 characterized the conspiracy as “likely the largest bribery, money-laundering scheme ever perpetrated against the people of the state of Ohio” (https://nytimes.com/2020/07/21/us/larry-householder-ohio-speaker-arrested.html). The 82-page “criminal complaint”was brought against “Larry Householder, Jeffrey Longstreth, Neil Clark, Matthew Borges, Juan Cespedes, and Generation Now,” the principal conduit for the money.
According to the online encyclopedia Wikipedia, “In the politics of the United States, dark money refers to political spending by nonprofit organizations — for example, 501(c)(4) (social welfare) 501(c)(5) (unions) and 501(c)(6) (trade association) groups — that are not required to disclose their donors. Such organizations can receive unlimited donations from corporations, individuals and unions. In this way, their donors can spend funds to influence elections, without voters knowing where the money came from.”
Mark Kovac, Randy Ludlow, and Rick Rouan report that “Householder, 61, R-Glenford, is charged by the FBI in an alleged racketeering conspiracy [and the others] involved in the funneling of energy company funds through Generation Now, a dark money group formed by a longtime associate. Additionally: “Some of the proceeds allegedly were used to back the campaigns of legislative candidates supportive of Householder’s run for speaker and to personally enrich Householder.” If Householder is eventually found to be guilty, “The felony carries a potential sentence of up to 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine” (https://dispatch.com/news/20200721/ohio-house-speaker-larry-householder-arrested-in-60-million-bribery-case).
Nieto del Rio reports “Energy Harbor [First Energy?] the source of the $60 million, said in a statement on Tuesday [July 22] that it had received subpoenas ‘in connection with the investigation surrounding Ohio House Bill 6,’ and intended to cooperate with investigators” but had not been charged with any crime (https://nytimes.com/2020/07/21/us/larry-householder-ohio-speaker-arrested.html).
The heart of the conspiracy
There were two key groups involved in the conspiracy. One, the “foundering energy” company is Energy Harbor [was known as First Energy Solutions] And, two, Larry Householder and his co-conspirators. The goal around which the two became linked was how to get the public and the Ohio legislature to support a $1 billion dollar bailout ($1.3 billion) for First Energy Solutions’ two aging, accident-prone, uncompetitive nuclear power plants. Larry Householder came to be identified by the company as the crucial link in this process. The money from Company A was funneled directly and through various intermediary entities to advance Householder’s political career, help him become Speaker of the House, influence with bribes some 20 or so members of the Ohio House of Representatives to vote for the bailout bill, mislead the Ohio public on why they should support a bailout of First Energy Solutions nuclear power plants, and then later to use various media and hired “blockers” to stymie and ultimately destroy the opposition’s efforts to repeal HB6 through an initiative ballot.
The dark money
While Householder and his co-conspirators have been charged with criminal conduct, First Energy has not, even though, according to Nieto del Rio and many others, it is the source of the over $60 million that was funneled through the dark money group, Generation Now, to support the efforts of Householder and his co-conspirators to pass bailout legislation and then later to defeat a 2019 referendum to repeal the bailout law. The money was, Nieto del Rio writes, “not regulated, not reported, not subject to public scrutiny.” (https://nytimes.com/2020/07/21/us/larry-householder-ohio-speaker-arrested.html).
Del Rio quotes Dave Anderson, the policy and communications manger for the Energy and Policy Institute, a nonprofit organization that supports clean energy. Anderson said that “FirstEnergy Solutions (now Energy Harbor) needed Mr. Householder’s help because its coal and nuclear plants could not generate electricity cheaply enough to compete with newer and cleaner forms of energy. The bailout legislation, House Bill 6, helped support two of the company’s nuclear plants and several coal plants.” Then, “once he was elected, he made passing this bill a top priority of his.”
Dark money flowed from other sources to support Householder’s quest for the bailout legislation
There were other corporate-connected groups that also contributed money to support the passage of HB6, mostly through dark money conduits. Here are two examples.
Randy Ludlow links American Electric Power to the bailout efforts (https://dispatch.com/news/20200725/columbus-utlity-giant-aep-funded-dark-money-spending-in-hb-6-campaign).
He refers to an investigation by the Columbus Dispatch that “a dark-money group wholly funded by House Bill 6 beneficiary and Columbus utility giant American Electric Power contributed $350,000 toward the campaigns now at the center of a racketeering and bribery case that ensnared House Speaker Larry Householder.” Ludlow continues: “Empowering Ohio’s Economy Inc., a nonprofit operated solely with AEP funds, gave $150,000 to Generation Now, another dark-money group that received $60 million from First Energy-related interests to ensure passage and survival of a $1 billion ratepayer bailout of a subsidiary’s pair of nuclear power plants.” [And] “Empowering Ohio, AEP’s super-Pac and the conduit for “dark money” also gave $200,000 to the Coalition for Opportunity & Growth. The FBI’s “criminal complaint” refers to “spending of $350,000 by an unidentified ‘interest group that was funded exclusively by $13 million from another energy company that supported HB 6.’” Ludlow information comes from a “source close to the investigation… that the energy company is American Electric Power, a publicly traded company that serves 5.5 million customers in 11 states.”
Jackie Borchardt and Randy Ludlow report additionally on the involvement of Ohio coal giant Murray Energy Corp, now bankrupt, which channeled “$100,000in ‘dark money’ involved in the alleged racketeering and bribery scheme that ensnared former House Speaker Larry Householder and four others.” The dark money group, Hardworking Ohioans Inc., “spent nearly $1.5 million to support Householder’s Republican candidates in the 2018 general election” (https://dispatch.com/20200731/ohio-coal-giant-murray-energy-is-100k-dark-money-donor-rsquocompay-brsquo-in-federal-probe).
Ultimately, the efforts by the conspirators were successful, as HB6 was passed the Republican-dominated house on May 29, 2019, a month and a half later the Senate passed the bill with amendments, then the House approved this version of the bill on July 23, 2019. Governor DeWine signed it on the same day. A campaign to overturn the legislation began immediately but was defeated by an onslaught of dark money financed activities by October 21, 2019.
Nuclear plants as a financial albatross on the corporate owners
FirstEnergy Solutions was a subsidiary of FirstEnergy Corp. until the spring of 2018. All along, FirstEnergy Solutions (FES), which operates generating facilities in several states, had the responsibility of operating the two nuclear plants and a coal plant in Ohio. During this time, FirstEnergy Corp. and FES agreed to a “restructuring” plan to have FES become an independent company and to cut all ties with each other. At the same time, FES, already highly indebted, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy on March 31, 2018 (https://www.utilitydive.com/news/firstenergy-solutions-files-for-bankruptcy-after-pushing-for-doe-energy/520371; and “on March 28, 2018, FES filed notice with PJM Interconnection LLC (PJM), the regional transmission organization, that the three nuclear facilities [two in Ohio and another one in Pennsylvania] would be deactivated or sold during the next three years. In the meantime, the company assured its customers that “all of the plants will continue current operations” (https://www.fes.com/content/fes/home/restructuring.html).
The coincidence of the restructuring plan and the bankruptcy proceeding reflects the interests of FirstEnergy Corp. It seem obvious that FirstEnergy wanted to get rid of this subsidiary, because it was not only unprofitable and encumbered with large debt but had little prospect of becoming competitive.
Anya Litvak offers some support for this analysis in an article published in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (https://wwww.post-gazette.com/business/powersource/2019/03/19/Who-s-afraid-of-FirstEnergy-Solutions-restructuring-plan-Every-government-agency-that-has-seen-it/stories/201903180113). According to Litvak, the restructuring plan cuts “virtually all ties between First Energy and FirstEnergy solutions, freeing the former “from any liability going forward.” Litvak notes that “FirstEnergy Corp. has been trying to separate from its unprofitable, non-utility power generating division for several years, after low natural gas prices, slow economic growth and other factors conspired to push older coal and nuclear plants out of the money.” There are creditors and government regulators that had to be satisfied with the creation of this new company. But the restructuring plan went ahead. As part of the deal, FirstEnergy agreed to transfer “about $1 billion in value” to FirstEnergy Solutions and “waive any claims against it,” or about “$2.1 billion in claims (https://www.cleveland.com/politics/2019/04/firstenergy-solutions-banruptcy-plan-rejected-by-federal-judge.html). And to sweeten the restructuring plan for FirstEnergy Corp, the company was given “absolution for potential crimes of the past.”
According to Litvak’s investigation, regulators were “shut out of the process.” Government agency officials complained that FirstEnergy provided no information “about the extent of environmental contamination at the sites and that the restructuring plan was “so vague about what rights creditors are forfeiting…they can’t even make a decision whether it’s a reasonable trade.” FirstEnergy Corp apparently will go to great lengths to remove FES from its corporation.
Prior to the bailout in 2019, First Energy Solutions was saddled, as it is now, with two aging, accident-prone, uncompetitive nuclear plants in Ohio. It had been losing markets to lower-cost natural gas, much of it from environmentally-destructive hydraulic fracturing for natural gas. The only way that it could stay in business and avoid closing the nuclear power plants was by getting substantial financial support from the Ohio taxpayers. A plan unfolded as to how to influence the Republican-dominated state legislature to support a billion-dollar bailout of the company and we are now learning that Larry Householder was a crucial player in bringing the bailout plan to fruition..
The nuclear plants in Ohio
The Davis-Besse Nuclear Power Plant is one of these plants. Journalist Sandy Mitchell writes that Davis-Besse “is located on 954-acre site 10 miles north of Oak Harbor, Ohio, and 21 miles east of Toledo (https://www.tripsavvy.com/ohio-nuclear-power-plants-753093). The plant opened in 1978, making it the first in Ohio and the 57th commercial nuclear power plant in the United States. It was originally co-owned by Cleveland Electric Illuminating Company and Toledo Edison and is named for the chairmen of both companies, John K. Davis and Ralph M. Besse.”. Subsequently, First Energy Corp became the owner. Mitchell adds, “Davis-Besse is [has] a pressurized water reactor and produces 40 percent of the electricity used in northwestern Ohio” [and] “The plant contributes over $10 million a year in local and state taxes. Its original 40-year license to operate ran from 1977 until 2017 and then was extended by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission for another 20 years to 2037, despite its record of accidents and the unsolved, ever-growing nuclear waste problem.
Gar Smith, author of Nuclear Roulette: The Truth About the Most Dangerous Energy Source on Earth (published 2012),writes that the Nuclear Regulatory Commission recognized “Davis-Besse as one of the most dangerous reactors in the United States and that “Between 1969 and 2005 this single plant experienced six out of the 34 reported ‘significant accident sequence precursors’ – triple the rate reported at any other U.S. nuclear plant” (p. 147). There have been at least another six accidents at the Davis-Besse plant since 2005, according to Sandy Mitchell investigation ((https://www.tripsavvy.com/ohio-nuclear-power-plants-75309). Wikipedia has a summary of information on the “Davis-Besse Nuclear Power Station,” including the following notorious example.
“On March 5, 2002, maintenance workers discovered that corrosion had eaten a football-sized hole into the reactor vessel head of the Davis–Besse plant. Although the corrosion did not lead to an accident, this was considered to be a serious nuclear safety incident. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission kept Davis–Besse shut down until March 2004, so that FirstEnergy was able to perform all the necessary maintenance for safe operations. The NRC imposed its largest fine ever—more than $5 million—against FirstEnergy for the actions that led to the corrosion. The company paid an additional $28 million in fines under a settlement with the U.S. Department of Justice.” (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Davis%E2%80%93Besse_Nuclear_Power_Stations).”
You can see further details on this near-catastrophic event in Helen Calicott’s book, Nuclear Power is Not the Answer (pages 81-83), or in James Mahaffey’s Atomic Accidents: A History of Nuclear Meltdowns and Disasters: From the Ozark Mountains to Fukushima (pp. 337-341).
The other FirstEnergy Solutions’ nuclear power plant is “The Perry Nuclear Power Plant.” It is notable because it has one of the largest “boiling water reactors in the U.S.” The Perry plant “sits on 1100 acres in North Perry, Ohio, about 40 miles northeast of Cleveland.” When the plant opened in 1987, it “was the 100th power reactor to be built in the US.” While there have been accidents at Perry and while it is unprofitable and in debt, and while the NRC has included it in a list of “27 reactors most at risk from earthquakes” (Gar Smith, p. 79).
The proponents’ justifications for the bailout
How do they justify the bailout? John Seewar reports on April 20, 2019 for U.S. News and World Report” on the views of Dave Griffing, vice president of government affairs for FirstEnergy Solutions (https://www.usanews.com/news/best-states/ohio/articles/2019-04-20/nuclear-operator-closing-plants-would-be-felt-around-ohio).
Griffings says the company needs HB6 to be passed to make the electricity generation playing field equal, because solar and wind sources of non-polluting electricity get energy efficiency and renewable energy incentives while nuclear plants don’t. HB6 will help to make up for this past inequity, Griffing is arguing. Note that Republicans have been trying to undermine the renewable incentives since they were introduced. Griffing claims that there have been upgrades at the nuclear plants that “now allow them to operate more efficiently,” implying they are now competitive in the electricity marketplace. The company does not provide any evidence of what the “upgrades” are or that any of its policies have improved its competitiveness. Griffing strongest arguments are based on what the state will lose if the nuclear plants are shut down. Tax revenues will be lost in the communities where the plants are located, affecting “schools, safety services and programs for children and seniors.”1,400 workers plus suppliers and contractors will be thrown out of work, though Seewar notes there are no job guarantees in HB6. And he contends that electricity rates will go up as supply from the plants vanishes and utilities are forced to import electricity from other states. And, as we’ll see, HB 6 does little to strengthen the wind and solar sectors of the Ohio economy.
Thomas Suddes adds to this discussion in an article headlined “Politics, not dirty-air concerns, drive Ohio House GOP’s Green New Deal” (https://www.dispatch.com/opinion/20190421/column-politics-not-dirty-air-concerns-drive-ohio-house-gops-green-new-deal).
While it is dubbed a “clean-air plan” that will be “a fair deal for homeowners and renters” who pay FirstEnergy Solutions for electricity, the passage of HB 6 carries a heavy price and in significant ways is just the opposite of a “clean air” bill. The company had no remedy for the nuclear waste accumulating at the two nuclear plants. Clean air credits (cash) would go to any “Ohio electricity producer (whether generating with nuclear fuel, natural gas, coal, wind or the sun) if its plant, or plants, emit no or reduced amounts of carbon dioxide).” But, as already pointed out, coal and natural gas power plants are the biggest emitters of carbon dioxide. It threatened to cancel the $4.39 monthly renewable-energy and electricity demand charges designed to encourage the development of solar and wind power generation. And the proponents of HB6 warned that if the two Ohio nuclear plants are closed, as FirstEnergy Solutions threatens to do, then 4,000-plus jobs will be directly and indirectly lost, many of them union jobs. Suddes suggests this is a bit hypocritical, pointing out that Republican legislators have not shown “the same degree of urgency for Ohioans in Trumbull (Warren) and Mahoning (Youngstown) counties thrown out of work thanks to General Motors’ Lordstown shutdown. (FYI, total 2018 compensation of Mary T. Barra, General Motors’ board chair and CEO, was $21,870,450.)” When all is said and done, this is a partisan bill that will benefit some Republican contributors.
According to a report by Jim Siegel and Mark Williams, “Supporters of the bill highlight that the plants generate about 90% of the state’s carbon dioxide-free power and support about 4,000 workers directly and indirectly, while the plants’ taxes are important to local communities and schools. About 15% of the state’s electricity production comes from nuclear sources, according to the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio. FirstEnergy Solutions warns that electric bills will go up if the plants close. PJM, which coordinates the wholesale movement of electricity in 13 states, says closing the plants is not expected to hurt electricity reliability in the region. However, closures would require the state to import more power generated elsewhere” and thus be vulnerable to market fluctuations (https://www.disptach.com/news/20190506/what-you-need-to-know-about-ohio-houses-energy-bill).
Enter Larry Householder, et al
Drawing on the 82-page FBI complaint and their own reporting, Mark Kovac, Randy Ludlow, and Rick Rouan provide details on this aspect of the charges brought by the FBI against Householder and four co-conspirators (https://dispatch.com/news/20200721/ohio-house-speaker-larry-householder-arrested-in-60-million-bribery-case). “Redacted court documents unsealed Tuesday afternoon [July 22] did not specifically name energy companies involved, though they noted that “Company A entities [Energy Harbor] paid Householder’s enterprise $60,886,835.86 in secret payments over the approximately three-year period in exchange for the billion-dollar-bailout. The enterprise, widely believed to be Generation Now, concealed the payments … to receive the bribe money and then transferring the payments internally to a web of related entities and accounts.” The nefarious activities occurred “from March 2017 through earlier this year.” No one from the company has yet been charged with involvement in the conspiracy.
On July 22, Householder and four of his co-conspirators were arrested and charged with a criminal conspiracy. The co-conspirators include “Matthew Borges, 48, of Bexley, the former chairman of the Ohio Republican Party and a lobbyist…. Jeffrey Longstreth, 44, of Columbus, a longtime campaign and political strategist for Householder,” Juan Cespedes, a lobbyist also close to Mr. Householder; and Neil Clark, a lobbyist. Householder and Clark were arrested at their homes. “It is unclear, Kovac et. al. write, “where the arrests of Longstreth and Cespedes took place.” After being charged, they were “released from custody… with travel restrictions and prohibitions on contact with others involved in the case.” More arrests are expected.
Householder, the kingpin and dark money
“Householder, 61, R-Glenford, is charged by the FBI in an alleged racketeering conspiracy involving the funneling of energy company funds through Generation Now, a dark money group formed by a longtime associate.” According to the Columbus Dispatch journalists, Generation Now, a so-called social welfare entity, was incorporated by Longstreth in early 2017, but federal officials say they have a recording that shows it secretly was controlled by Householder. Federal officials have a recorded conversation of Clark saying ‘Generation Now is the Speaker’s….’” According to the reporting, “JPL & Associates, a Columbus political consulting firm, was listed as president of Generation Now.” “Jeff Longstreth, a principal in the firm.” As a social welfare entity, Generation Now did not have to disclose its donors.
How the money was spent
The FBI’s 82-page affidavit goes into great detail describing how First Energy funneled tens of millions of dollars to Generation Now, how Generation Now was controlled by Household and operated by his co-conspirators, how they in turn sent out money to a host of dark-money entities as well as to Householder and the other defendants, all with the goal of supporting the bailout legislation and then, later, defeating the opposition that emerged after HB6 was signed into law.
“Some of the proceeds allegedly were used to back the campaigns of 21 candidates for state office in the 2018 and 2019 primary and general elections, including Householder’s earlier run for a legislative spot and then for Speaker of the House. Nieta del Rio notes that “the energy company helped finance the election of the House speaker, Larry Householder, in 2018.” Nieto del Rio points out that all but one of the 21 candidates, most of whom won their races, “would eventually support Householder’s election as Speaker.” Randy Ludlow reports that the FBI’s criminal complaint found that “First Energy, whose subsidiary [First Energy Solutions] owned the two facilities [the two nuclear plants], “had wired $9.5 million to Generation Now, a nonprofit authorities say was controlled by Householder and run by Jeff Longstreth, to pay for a media blitz and provide ‘cover’ for reluctant House members” (https://dispatch.com/news/20200730/meet-representative-3rsquo-who-benefited-from-larry-householder-cover-campaign).
“More than $1 million was spent on negative ads against those candidates’ opponents, with additional funds paying for Householder’s campaign staff, according to documents.” Householder spent some of the millions on his own personal interests, according to Nieta del Rio.
“The defendants … paid themselves personally millions of dollars in Company A bribe payments, funneled through Generation Now and other entities controlled by the enterprise.” “Householder received $400,000-plus in personal benefits, including funds to settle a personal lawsuit, to pay off credit card debt and for costs associated with his home in Florida, according to documents.”
The FBI investigation found that some of the money was spent on bribes and money laundering that “included dinners and meetings between undercover federal agents and Householder and Clark where the men made incriminating statements about illegal activity and bribes.” Some of it were spent on ads to support the bailout proposal and smear the opposition and some of it, $1.9 million, was spent on blocking a ballot initiative to overturn the legislation”….Generation Now spent “$9 million on TV ads to fight the ultimately failed referendum [initiative] seeking to repeal the bill.” None of it was spent to facilitate fair and open elections or legislative processes or reasoned arguments about what is best in the public interest.
The opposition, called “Ballot Campaign” submitted their ballot proposal language on July 29, 2019, revised it to satisfy the Ohio Attorney General on August 29, 2019, then had until October 21, 2019 to collect 265,000 signatures, all to be validated by the Ohio Secretary of State, in order to get their “referendum” on the ballot. The Householder group mobilized to defeat the ballot initiative, spending millions of dollars in dark money from Generation Now to flood the airways with television and radio ads supporting HB6, for direct mail, for billboards, for petition-signature activities, for putting pressure on lawmakers. And they were successful.
Democrats did offer an alternative to HB6: “The Ohio Clean Jobs Plan”
Kristin Boggs (D-Columbus), a member of the Ohio House Energy Generation subcommittee, provides some details on this Democratic alternative “clean energy” bill on her government website https://www.ohiohouse.gov/kristin-boggs/press/boggs-dem-lawmakers-propose-ohio-clean-energy-jobs-plan).
It differs from the Republican versions of the bill mainly by emphasizing the need to encourage and develop renewable energy companies that “protect and grow good jobs across the state, improve the health of Ohioans and avoid rate hikes on consumer utility bills.” With respect to jobs, the emphasis is on restoring the promise of “better jobs and brighter futures, and gives the next generation of Ohio workers the opportunity to lead again – in advanced, clean energy jobs that will power our state into the future.” The implication is that these jobs will be in energy sectors such as solar, wind, energy efficiency, not jobs in nuclear power plants.
The alternative clean energy plan of the subcommittee Democrats also includes a priority for non-nuclear clean energy when it calls for the establishment of “a 50-percent renewable energy portfolio standard by 2050, fix setback requirements to encourage large-scale wind turbine investment, and require a 50 percent in-state preference for new wind and solar projects. And there’s more. The Democratic bill wants to “strengthen Ohio’s renewable and energy efficiency benchmarks and re-envisions the state’s Advanced Energy Standards (AES) to save consumers money and grow emerging sectors of Ohio’s clean energy economy.” Boggs refers to a report that “Ohioans could realize $3.5 billion in additional economic value under updated efficiency standards” [while] “Nuclear power will not save Ohioans money on their electric bills.”
The message of the Democratic alternative is muddled, because along with the strong emphasis on solar, wind, and energy efficiency, the bill seems to include support for some sort of bailout for the nuclear plants, as suggested by the following language: “The plan would re-envision and modernize Ohio’s AES to support nuclear technology as part of the state’s energy future and create Advanced Energy Credits to maintain a 15 percent baseline generation capacity from emissions-free nuclear power.”
As of now, August 3, 2020, it appears that Householder and his co-conspirators will be tried and convicted of criminal activities. Governor Mike DeWine, a supporter of the bailout, wants the now tainted law to be repealed and then replaced by a similar law, in which case the nuclear plants would continue to be subsidized by Ohio taxpayers. There is a good chance that the Republican-dominated legislature will go along with the Governor’s wishes – and for the same dubious and opportunistic reasons it did the first time. It seems that the only way that the bailout can be finally ended is for Ohio citizens to vote for anti-bailout Democrats in November. But this is unlikely to prove successful, given how the Ohio political map is so gerrymandered in favor of Republicans and how Ohio is among the dubious leaders in the nation in voter suppression. The Republican legislators are on record as being supporters of the bailout.
In his new book, How Trump Stole 2020, Greg Palast writes that by mid-2020, Ohio had already purged 432,000 Ohioans from the voter rolls (p. 23). Palast refer to the Supreme Court case, Husted v. APRI (the A. Philip Randolph Institute). Jon Husted, Republican Secretary of State in Ohio, “had removed half a million voters from the rolls in the 2016 election cycle because they’d supposedly moved their residences based on the ‘evidence’ that they did not vote in two federal elections” (p. 49). This ruling conflicts with the National Voting Registration Act of 1993, which states that a purge program “shall not result in the removal of the name of any person from the [rolls] by reason of the person’s failure to vote” (p. 50). But Husted went even further. According to Palast, Husted instituted a rule that, if the Post Office successfully delivers a card to your registration address, and you simply didn’t mail it back, properly filled out, then obviously, says Husted, you’ve moved” (p. 54).
Furthermore, Republicans appear to have no interest in eliminating “dark money” in politics. This means that as the Ohio Republican legislature moves to replace HB6 with a similar bailout measure, we can anticipate that millions of dollars will flow into the political process (e.g., lobbying, campaign donations, faux grassroots operations) and into pro-bailout media to support it. In an opinion piece in The Columbus Dispatch, John Pudnet presents a case for banning dark money in politics, though it will hardly have an impact on the Republican legislators (https://dispatch.com/opinion/20200731/column-speaker-householderrsquos-arrest-emphasizes-need-to-ban-dark-money-from-politics).
Sadly, the focus on the Householder swindle and all the corrupt politics surrounding it also distracts from the larger issues of energy policy and the crucial and pressing question of how to create an energy system that does not fuel increasingly disruptive and accelerating climate change. The two Ohio nuclear plants (and the coal plant) that the original HB6 gave renewed life have grave environmental effects. In an email sent out to Sierra Club email-lists on April 20, 2019, Harvey Wasserman offered a “preliminary draft talking points for this week’s Ohio nuke bailout hearings [April 24] (solartopia@GMAIL.COM). He listed his talking points into four categories of reasons for opposing the bailout and generally for opposing nuclear energy, but also reasons for supporting wind and solar energy.
#1 -The first category is on the “physical status” of the Davis-Besse and Perry nuclear plants, which Wasserman says “literally crumbling.” He elaborates with this example: “The shield building at Davis-Besse is swiss cheese…pock-marked with holes caused by moisture getting into cracks, then expanding in cold weather, then melting in thaws. It could easily drop heavy chunks onto vital components.” Though it came into operation in 1978, based on a 1960’s design, there “has never been a comprehensive inspection of DB in its over 40 years of operation by an independent agency to check for cracking, embrittlement, incomplete maintenance.”
#2 – Wasserman’s second category is about the negative “health impacts” of nuclear power. He gives three examples that apply to nuclear plants generally and, by implication to Davis-Besse as well. In his email, he writes that “All nukes emit deadly radiation,” refers to “downwind infant death rates rise when a nuke opens,” and refers to the cataclysmic nuclear accidents and their massive ecological and health effects at Three Mile Island, Chernobyl, and Fukushima. In another article, Wasserman point to how Davis-Besse continuously “dumps its waste water into Lake Erie between Toldao and Cleveland” (https://www.opednews.com/article/America-s-Hole-in-the-head-by-Harvey-Wasserman-Cuomo_Energy_Nukes_Radiation-10419.997.html). In his book, Nuclear Roulette, Gar Smith offers the following example of how the Nuclear Regulatory Commission has been negligent in enforcing safety standards at nuclear power facilities, a contributing factor in the accidents, and, implicitly, to make the point that nuclear facilities are inherently unsafe, accidents compound the problem, and poor regulation further exacerbates both safety and health.
#3 – The third category identified by Wasserman is about “environmental impacts. He makes three points. One, the “Cooling towers at Perry and Davis-Besse kill far more birds than modern industrial wing turbines, solar panels, batteries or LED/efficiency.” Two, “Heat emissions from steam and hot water [from the reactors] ‘kill trillions of marine creatures and unbalance Lake Erie’s eco-system; renewables emit no such heat.” Three, “All reactors create both low and high radioactive waste – [and there is] no realistic management plan.”
#4 – Number 4 is about the problematic “economics” of nuclear-generated electricity. Wasserman maintains that state regulation that has deterred investment in Ohio’s wind. On this, he writes: “The Legislature’s senseless anti-wind setback is purely Luddite, stopping $4 billion in private investment ready to build northern Ohio wind farms that would quickly and cleanly provide the power now produced by nukes.” The conditions in that part of the state are propitious for wind farms. The land is flat and there is plenty of wind. The farmers on whose land wind turbines would be located “want the income.” Wind farms can be up and running in two years and keep going for 30 years. Investment in renewables will create jobs: “More than a quarter-million Americans now work in the solar industry; more than 100,000 in wind, far more than in coal, oil, or nuclear.
Why are there so few new nuclear reactors being built?
Peter Fairley addressed this question in an article for MIT’s Technology Review on May 28, 2015 (https://www.technologyreview.com/537816/why-dont-we-have-more-nuclear-power). His bottom line is that “it’s just too expensive.” There other concerns as well. The accidents at Three Mile Island, Chernobyl, and Fukushima added to the worries about nuclear power. The “economics” of the nuclear power plants remains have gone from poor to worse. Fairley refers to a report by the International Energy Agency and the OECD’s Nuclear Energy Agency that found equipment costs had risen 20 percent from 2010 to 2014. He cites evidence from the financial advisory firm Lazard that the costs of generating power from solar and onshore wind had fallen below the costs of nuclear.
While there are four new nuclear reactors under construction in Georgia and South Carolina, only loan guarantees from the federal government and additional financing support from state regulators made that feasible. For a rebound to occur, Fairly maintains, the nuclear industry will have “to demonstrate that it can build the enhanced-safety reactors that regulators are mandating, on time and on budget.” There is no indication that this is going to happen, at least when it comes to the construction of the large conventional nuclear reactors. The new reactors being built are “now years late and billions of dollars over budget.” The U.S. Department of Energy and other proponents of nuclear-powered energy have hope that work on the construction of small modular reactors will sooner or later become available and will be a boost the nuclear power industry. On this point, however, Fairley found that “the most mature designs have yet to attract buyers.” He continues this point: “Several leading developers, including Babcock & Wilcox and Westinghouse, have recently scaled back their programs.”