Thursday, Oct 18, 2018
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Community leaders unite to save nuclear power plants

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COLUMBUS — Facing an eight-month deadline to find a way to save Ohio’s two struggling nuclear power plants on Lake Erie’s shore — or see them permanently decommissioned — community leaders from Ottawa and Lake counties have created a coalition in hopes of getting a reprieve.

“The stakes are simply too high not to,” Jamie Beier Grant, director of the Ottawa County Improvement Corporation, said Wednesday at the Ohio Statehouse.

The Ohio Clean Energy Jobs Alliance, which consists of representatives of local government, schools, economic development groups, skilled trade unions, and businesses, hopes to jump-start legislative efforts to keep the lights on at Davis-Besse east of Toledo and the Perry Plant east of Cleveland.

WATCH: Guy Parmigian, superintendent of Benton-Carroll-Salem School District, makes his case for saving Davis-Besse

If the plants close, “there will be a pretty massive recession going south from the lake to the core of Ohio,” said Lake County Commissioner Jerry Cirino.

The plants have been unable to effectively compete in this era of cheap and abundant natural gas.

First Energy Solutions, in the midst of bankruptcy proceedings, has made procedural moves toward decommissioning the two plants but it won’t reach the point of no return on the 40-year-old Davis-Besse until roughly June.

That’s when the power marketing subsidiary of Akron-based FirstEnergy must choose between either making a long-term commitment to Davis-Besse by refueling the plant, or proceeding with a shutdown. A shutdown would also require the storage of radioactive waste on site until it degrades. That entire process could take some 60 years.

“I’ve been told by enough physicists and engineers that once you start shutting down a nuclear power plant, there’s virtually no turning back,” Mr. Cirino said.

That would mean the nearly 700 people employed at Davis-Besse, the largest employer of Ottawa County, would lose their jobs — with the exception of those left behind for security and fuel-handling.

These groups tried unsuccessfully last year to convince state lawmakers to pass a law that would guarantee a market for power generated by the plants despite the fact that it is more expensive than natural gas. The bill would have allowed FES to collect about $300 million a year from customers even if they shopped elsewhere for their power.

Efforts to convince the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to enact solutions have not yielded fruit.

These moves were generally opposed by competing electricity suppliers, manufacturers who count on affordable electricity rates, environmental groups that argue the plants’ time is coming to an end, consumer advocates, and some lawmakers well beyond Lake Erie who questioned why their constituents might be asked to subsidize the plants.

FES is also moving forward with plans to decommission its twin-reactor Beaver Valley nuclear complex just over the Ohio line west of Pittsburgh.

“My school district relies on Davis-Besse,” said Guy Parmigian, superintendent of Benton-Carroll-Salem School District. “We benefit from its affordable, clean, and dependable energy, but most importantly we rely on its tax revenue.

“First Energy Solutions, the station’s owner, also spends over $45 million per year with vendors and suppliers in Ohio,” he said. “So it’s not just impacting Lake County and Ottawa County. It’s the whole state.”

Lawmakers will return to Columbus after the Nov. 6 election for lame-duck session, leaving little time for something to clear both chambers and reach Gov. John Kasich’s desk before the session is gaveled to a close for the year.

State Rep. Steve Arndt (R., Port Clinton) said he is more optimistic now than he has been for some time that a potential legislative path could be found before time runs out. He said he has had a potential buyer or operator for the Davis-Besse plant in his office who could step in if everything can be aligned with FERC and the entity that maintains the 13-state electricity grid.

“First Energy Solutions has indicated that if the right construct is given, it may have an interest in continuing in operation,” Mr. Arndt said.

He declined to identify a potential buyer, saying only that the entity was from outside Ohio. He does not believe time will allow a bill to move in the upcoming lame-duck session so it will likely wait until next year.

“This is probably one of more complex subjects that you can be engaged in,” Mr. Arndt said. “It has to be spot on or, quite frankly, whatever we do will probably be litigated. It has to be sound legally and from a policy standpoint.”

Contact Jim Provance at jprovance@theblade.com or 614-221-0496.

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