As a state representative, I have often been forced to make difficult decisions about proposed legislation. House Bill 6, the much-publicized and controversial Ohio Clean Air Program that bails out two nuclear power plants, falls into that category. But amid the television ads, mailers and phone calls on both sides of the debate, it was my job to determine the best option for our district and vote, knowing that half my constituents would be happy with my decision and the other half discontented.
Almost 30 percent of the about 700 permanent jobs at the Perry Plant are held by residents of Ashtabula County. We were hit hard with job losses from the Great Recession, and these positions are well-paying, include benefits and provide a great economic boost to our county that would be hard to replace. With routine maintenance and refueling, the Perry and Davis-Besse plants are responsible for more than 4,000 jobs.
These two power plants alone contribute more than $30 million annually in state and local taxes. In the House Finance Subcommittee on K-12 Education, we heard testimony from the Perry and the Benton-Carroll-Salem school districts who directly benefit from the plants. Similar to those districts, which have lost property tax revenue from the closure of coal-fired power plants, these school districts would face difficult economic times if the nuclear plants were to close.
However, after almost a decade of moving toward more sustainable sources of electricity, only 2 percent of Ohio’s electricity comes from wind and solar, compared with 34 percent from natural gas, 47 percent from coal and 15 percent from nuclear. As coal becomes less prevalent and more natural gas facilities are built, it remains a concern of mine that Ohio’s energy portfolio is not as balanced as it should be.
HB 6 also eliminated Ohio’s renewable portfolio standard (RPS) and energy efficiency standards (EEF). This is a step backwards — a black-eye for Ohio and a deep concern for all of us who care about the environment our children and grandchildren will inherit.
Over 100,000 Ohioans work in the clean energy sector, putting us eighth in the country and third in the region for clean energy jobs. We must continue to invest in those emerging industries and the good-paying jobs of the future.
HB 6 is also a corporate bailout — yet the state did little to intercede financially when the GM Lordstown plant needed our assistance. Why should FirstEnergy be any different?
Still, closing the Perry plant would result in a substantial loss of jobs in the district, millions in state and local taxes and an imbalance in Ohio’s energy portfolio — a concern that holds not only economic implications, but security ones as well. Without a diverse energy portfolio, we are more vulnerable to market swings and potential disruptions of service.
Though I don’t like bailouts, remain committed to clean energy job growth and am deeply concerned about the future of our environment, energy production is absolutely vital to grow our economy and move us forward. That’s why, ultimately, I voted “yes” on HB 6. Job growth is moving in the right direction, and I hope that we can have discussions about reinstating RPS and EES in the coming weeks and months.
John Patterson: is a Jefferson Democrat who represents Ohio’s 99th House district.