For all of the investigations swirling around the 2019 enactment of House Bill 6 by the Ohio General Assembly, a lack of official scrutiny for the legislation’s primary beneficiary has been confounding.
Now, it appears at least two government agencies are taking a look at Akron-based FirstEnergy Corp., which, with its affiliates, is believed to have been the major source of $61 million in dark money contributions that federal investigators allege were made to secure the $1.3 billion utility company bailout engineered in HB 6.
Two nuclear power plants whose future is tied to the legislation were owned by a FirstEnergy subsidiary, FirstEnergy Solutions, which is now called Energy Harbor. The Davis-Besse nuclear power plant in Ottawa County and the Perry plant in Lake County are to receive subsidies beginning next year, courtesy of electric utility customers throughout Ohio who will be required to pay new fees under HB 6.
As currently on the books, most ratepayers will be dinged 85 cents a month through 2027 to help support the nuclear plants and will continue to pay up to $1.50 a month through 2030 to prop up two coal-fired power plants — one of them in Indiana — that are owned by a group of electric companies including AEP in Columbus.
There has been a broad clamor for repeal of the tainted legislation but so far no serious indication that state lawmakers will deliver the do-over that polls suggest most Ohioans want.
HB 6 had plenty of detractors, including this editorial board, while it was being debated and ultimately passed by state lawmakers. And following the bill’s enactment, a campaign remarkable for its intensity and dirty tricks withstood a vigorous effort to beat back the law through a proposed referendum which ultimately failed to win a slot on the November 2019 ballot.
The entire affair was malodorous from the beginning. Then in July, the U.S. district attorney for southern Ohio announced federal racketeering charges against now former-Ohio House Speaker Larry Householder and four associates, alleging that they conspired to illegally use contributions primarily from an entity identified as “Company A,” believed to be FirstEnergy, to maintain political control of the legislature in support of passing and protecting HB 6. That investigation continues.
FirstEnergy and company officials have not been charged in relation to HB 6 activities. The Public Utilities Commission of Ohio said last week it has asked FirstEnergy and its subsidiaries to demonstrate by Sept. 30 that their political and charitable spending in support of the legislation was not funded by Ohio ratepayers.
Meanwhile, an apparent investigation by the Securities and Exchange Commission was revealed in a federal lawsuit in which FirstEnergy is seeking to protect documents it says were wrongfully taken by a terminated employee now attempting to act as a whistleblower. Court documents say that FirstEnergy documents were turned over to the SEC.
Also raising questions last week was the revelation that the federal charges caused FirstEnergy in July to hold checks contributing $158,000 to 65 political candidates. That checks were written but not received was learned from Aug. 20 campaign finance reports now being examined.
Now Attorney General Dave Yost has sued to keep HB 6 fees from going to Energy Harbor and prevent FirstEnergy from contributing to legislative campaigns.
Electric utility ratepayers across the state deserve answers regarding the money trail behind HB 6.