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When coal plants operate at a loss, Ohioans have to pay. Now, some want a refund

Molly McKenzie Nichols with the Ohio Sierra Club's Beyond Coal campaign speaks to activists gathered in the lobby of the building housing the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio. The group went to the PUCO meeting to deliver postcards to commissioners asking them to order utilities to stop collecting charges related to two coal-fired power plants.
Karen Kasler
Statehouse News Bureau
The Ohio Sierra Club's Beyond Coal campaign went to a PUCO meeting in April of 2023 asking commissioners to order utilities to stop collecting charges related to two coal-fired power plants. Now, another group is arguing that PUCO should force the plants' owners to give Ohio consumers a refund.

Ohio electric customers don’t just pay for the electricity they use: They are also charged subsidies to keep power plants in business.

In 2020, for instance, they paid more than $100 million to subsidize two unprofitable coal plants.

The Citizens Utility Board of Ohio is arguing a case to the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio that those customers deserve a refund from the owners of those plants, the Ohio Valley Electric Corporation.

WOSU's Renee Fox has been reporting on this issue, and joined The Ohio Newsroom to discuss the details.

This conversation has been edited for brevity and clarity.

On the Citizens Utility Board of Ohio’s case

“They're teamed up with the Ohio Consumers Council and the Manufacturers Association of Ohio. They've had experts study these plants and their operations, and they're saying that the way that these coal plants were run was unprofitable, but they didn't have to be unprofitable. [They’re saying] that the plants could have shut down when the market prices weren't good for coal-fired plants and saved everyone some money by doing that, but instead they ran them 24/7, whether or not the market was going to pay a good price for the energy produced during that time.

On the Ohio Valley Electric Corporation’s response

“Well, they say that the way they run the plants doesn't matter that the way Ohio laws are written, that they can collect these subsidies, no matter if they were selling their energy at a profit or at a loss.

On how HB 6 factors in

“The reason these OVEC subsidies were put into House Bill 6 was because a few different energy companies heard how First Energy was benefiting with this nuclear bailout, and they kind of wanted a piece of that pie.

So companies like AEP lobbied to get these subsidies put into HB 6. Then when the scandal involved in House Bill 6 was revealed to the state and Larry Householder was indicted and later convicted, the subsidies for the nuclear power plants were rolled back. These subsidies were not. These were left in place.”

On what’s next

Well, they're waiting for the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio to make a decision on whether or not all of this $100 million from 2020 should go back to consumers, or maybe some of it, or none of it.

They do have to make a decision. They are reviewing this. This case has been active for a long time, since 2021. So things do seem like they're coming to a conclusion sometime soon. But when I asked about that last month, they said it wasn't on their agenda yet to make a ruling.

Then also, there's some bills in the works that could roll these subsidies back, just like the nuclear subsidies were [eliminated]. But those bills haven't really moved, and they're becoming less and less likely to become law.”

Renee Fox is a reporter for 89.7 NPR News.