The cooling tower at the Davis-Besse nuclear plant in Ohio. Credit: Kathiann M Kowalski

A second version of legislation in Ohio designed to subsidize the operation of two nuclear power plants appears to have the same limitations on renewable energy development as the first version.

Meanwhile, Democrats have announced an alternative plan, which would increase the state’s renewable energy standard to 50% by 2050.

Substitute House Bill 6, introduced to members of the Ohio House Energy Generation subcommittee minutes before a scheduled fourth hearing late Thursday, keeps language that would allow utilities and independent retail power suppliers to ignore previously enacted renewable energy benchmarks which top out at 12.5% by 2027.

Without those benchmarks, wind and solar developers worry that the utility market for their power would weaken.

For consumers and Ohio businesses, the future would definitely be more expensive under HB 6, though the amended version encourages state regulators to develop “reasonable arrangements” for industry.

The bill as now written would eliminate the minor fees associated with acquiring renewable energy, 10 cents to 69 cents a month on residential bills, but would require customers to continue paying for energy efficiency programs mandated since 2009. Those programs would now disappear after 2020 but could be resurrected by utilities if approved by regulators.

The revisions leave unscathed the bill’s most expensive feature — new customer fees amounting to more than $300 million annually to create a Clean Air Fund. About half of that money would go to the Perry and Davis-Besse nuclear power plants operated by FirstEnergy Solutions on Lake Erie.

The Republican majority on the subcommittee voted five to three to move the bill — without discussion — to the larger House Energy and Natural Resources Committee for a hearing as early as Monday.

The committee’s action came about the same hour that outnumbered House Democrats released a statement purporting to announce the creation of a “Clean Energy Jobs Plan.”

That plan, so far without accompanying legislation, would “strengthen Ohio’s renewable and energy efficiency benchmarks,” set a 50% renewable energy standard by 2050 and resurrect the state’s former Advanced Energy Standards, which GOP majorities previously converted to unenforceable goals.

Enacted in 2009, the standards envisioned the development of fuel cell power plants and advanced nuclear power plants, neither of which have occurred in Ohio.

Democrats called for the resurrection of the standards and the creation of “Advanced Energy Credits to maintain a 15 percent baseline generation capacity from emissions-free nuclear power.”

John Funk is a Cleveland-based journalist who has written for the Cleveland Plain Dealer, Akron Beacon Journal, and Cincinnati Post.