When Pressed, Ohio Regulators Do the Right Thing (mostly)

Two updates on recent blogs that were related to rather bizarre news out of my home state of Ohio.

In the first, the Ohio Siting Board voted unanimously to reverse an earlier decision that would have limited the hours of the day when a wind farm proposed to be built in Lake Erie could operate. The Board earlier this year said, sure, you can build the wind farm; you just can’t operate it at night between March and November.

In the second, the Ohio Public Utilities Commission will require utility FirstEnergy to show that its Ohio utility ratepayers didn’t pay, “directly or indirectly,” for political or charitable spending in support of the state’s $1.6 billion nuclear and coal bailout bill. The commission’s action is a good move, but more lenient than what the state’s consumer advocate had sought. And it’s tangled up in a federal indictment alleging bribery by a prominent Oho Republican who shepherded the bailout bill through the state legislature.

Here’s background on both.

In late May, the Ohio Power Siting Board offered up what amount to a poison pill when it approved the Icebreaker wind power project: The turbines must be completely stopped from dusk until dawn between March and November.

The board said that its requirement to “feather” the turbines was meant to protect birds and bats that might fly into the blades at night and be killed.

The developer, Icebreaker Windpower, said at the time it was “stunned” by the board’s decision. It said the feathering requirement reneged on an agreement reached a year ago between Icebreaker and the board’s staff.

Icebreaker would be eight to 10 miles off of Cleveland. It would consist of six wind turbine generators, along with submerged electric collection cables, a temporary staging area at the Port of Cleveland, an operations and maintenance center and a substation. It would use Vestas 3.45 megawatt offshore wind turbines with a total generating capacity of 20.7 MW.

In its statement, LEEDCo said it had invested “incredible amounts of time and money” into studying and assessing potential impact to birds and bats. It said the U.S. Department of Energy ruled after a two-year study that the project would have “no significant impact” on the environment.

Renewable energy advocates alleged that the poison pill could be traced to Sam Randazzo, a longtime representative of the “traditional energy industry” and “vocal critic” of renewables. He also happens to chair both the Public Utilities Commission and the power siting board.

One anti-fossil fuel group went a step further to suggest that attorneys working for coal company Murray Energy filed briefs on behalf of two residents of a Cleveland suburb who opposed the wind farm. Bob Murray is a staunch ally of President Trump. His company (Murray’s not Trump’s) filed for bankruptcy protection last October. The Wall Street Journal reported that the company had defaulted on its $440 million bankruptcy financing package.

Reports said that siting board members have been under pressure from state lawmakers to life the nighttime limits. Thirty-two lawmakers from both parties signed a letter urging the board to reconsider its earlier decision.

It’s not yet full steam ahead for the wind farm project, however. The board still needs to approve the developer’s plans to address a variety of topics, from mitigating harm to birds, bats and fish to how to eventually decommission the wind farm.

As for FirstEnergy, back in July the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Ohio charged the Speaker of the Ohio House of Representatives, the former chair of Ohio’s Republican Party, three other people and a “501(c)(4) entity” with a federal public corruption racketeering conspiracy involving $60 million.

The politician, Larry Householder, was arrested July 21 and charged in an alleged conspiracy to pass and then defend a billion-dollar nuclear plant bailout, known as Ohio House Bill 6. The feds alleged that Householder and the “entity” conspired to violate the federal racketeering statute through the use of wire fraud, receipt of millions of dollars in bribes and money laundering.

The federal complaint and indictment allege that the defendants received approximately $60 million from “Company A” — widely thought to be FirstEnergy — and its subsidiaries and affiliates.

Earlier in September, the Office of Ohio Consumers’ Counsel filed paperwork with the Public Utilities Commission (chaired, remember, by Sam Randazzo) in an effort to learn where FirstEnergy got the $60 million.

The Commission agreed to review the utility’s political and charitable spending and directed the company and its affiliates to file a response by the end of the month.

I took this photo of Cleveland’s skyline in June 2018.

Author: David Wagman

I live in Colorado where I write about a wide range of topics, and get outside regularly to hike, bike, garden and walk the dog!