Mixed progress for Ohio legislation

19 May 2017

The Ohio Senate yesterday held its first hearing on legislation supporting the continued operation of the state's nuclear power plants, while a House committee suspended its own hearings on the same legislation. Meanwhile, business and community leaders, conservationists and scientists have written to Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos calling for nuclear to be included in the company's definition of "renewables" to help keep Ohio's nuclear power plants operating.

Perry (Image: FirstEnergy/US Nuclear Regulatory Commission)

Ohio's House Bill 178 aims to create a Zero-Emissions Nuclear Resource (ZENR) program that would help to ensure the continued operation of FirstEnergy Corporation's Ohio nuclear plants - an 894 MWe pressurised water reactor at Davis-Besse and a 1256 MWe boiling water reactor at Perry. The legislation would follow measures enacted last year by the states of New York and Illinois which provided so-called zero emission credits for non-emitters of carbon dioxide, enabling at-risk nuclear power plants to avoid premature closure.

William Seitz, chairman of the Ohio House Public Utilities Committee suspended further hearings on the legislation on 17 May, after the committee had heard over ten hours of testimony on the bill from both proponents and opponents.

"I am not sensing a keen desire on the part of the House members to vote on this and doubt that we will have more hearings in the near future unless something cataclysmic should happen," Seitz said, according to Ohio news service cleveland.com.

FirstEnergy representative Jennifer Young told World Nuclear News: "We understand that the Ohio House has indicated they are done holding hearings at this time on HB178. They have had three hearings and heard from more than three dozen witnesses on either side of the issue. A vote on the legislation is not currently scheduled, but we are continuing discussions with legislators on the importance of this bill and of nuclear plants to Ohio."

Although the bill would appear to have stalled in the House, the legislation remains before the Ohio Senate as Senate Bill 128. The bill had its first hearing yesterday.

"We will also continue conversations with senators around this topic, just as we are doing with House legislators, and we hope more hearings will be scheduled in the Senate in the coming weeks," Young said.

FirstEnergy plea

FirstEnergy is looking to withdraw from the competitive energy market and has previously acknowledged it does not expect to remain the owner of the Davis Besse and Perry plants in the long term. The Ohio plants - along with FirstEnergy's other competitive nuclear generating assets, the two-unit Beaver Valley PWR plant in Pennsylvania - are owned by the company's FirstEnergy Solutions and operated by the FirstEnergy Nuclear Operating Company.

CEO Charles Jones told investors on 16 May that the while the company is making "significant progress" towards transitioning into a more fully regulated company, it "strongly supports" national and state-level efforts to preserve essential energy resources including the Ohio legislation.

"Our Davis-Besse, Perry and Beaver Valley nuclear plants have the ability to operate 24/7 - generating enough electricity to power more than 4 million homes, around the clock. In fact, nuclear facilities produce more than 90% of the carbon-free power in Ohio and Pennsylvania," he said." ZEN would compensate nuclear plants on a per-megawatt basis for the unique benefits they bring to Ohio's environment, fuel diversity, energy security and resiliency."

The need for such mechanisms - similar to ones used in New York and Illinois to ensure the continued operation of nuclear plants - had been demonstrated by the closure of plants in Wisconsin, Vermont and Nebraska, Jones said. "We simply cannot allow this to happen in Ohio and Pennsylvania," he added.

Amazon plea

Meanwhile, a group of "concerned citizens, scientists, business leaders, conservationists, and community leaders" wrote to Bezos: "We are writing to urge you to expand Amazon's commitment to clean energy and job creation by including nuclear energy in Amazon's definition of renewables. Doing so would save Ohio's nuclear plants, Davis-Besse and Perry, which provide 90% of Ohio's electricity from clean energy, and 1,400 high-paying green jobs."

The letter, made public by the Environmental Progress research and policy organisation, applauds the Seattle, Washington-based online trader and cloud computing company's commitment to clean energy and job creation. Amazon Web Services has committed to achieving 100% renewable energy usage for its global infrastructure footprint, while the company has publicly supported the US Environmental Protection Agency's Clean Power Plan, and is a leading corporate purchaser of renewable energy in the USA.

Researched and written
by World Nuclear News