Last July, Ohio’s governor signed House Bill 6 (HB6) to provide FirstEnergy (now Energy Harbor), a large electric utility, with subsidies of nearly $150 million per year to keep its Perry and Davis-Besse nuclear power plants operating. Ohio is only the fifth US state to offer such subsidies; other states include New York, Illinois, New Jersey, and Connecticut. Although the subsidies are justified by some as necessary for climate mitigation, in the latter four states, electricity generation from natural gas, which results in greenhouse gas emissions, has increased since 2017, when these subsidy programs started kicking in. Moreover, in Ohio, subsidies are also being extended to coal power plants, providing the clearest illustration that what underlies the push for subsidies to nuclear plants is not a result of a real commitment to climate mitigation but a way to use climate concerns to bolster the profits of some energy corporations.
The enormous lobbying effort that won the subsidies used dark money–backed organizations that spent millions of dollars to sway voters and politicians. But it didn’t stop with the bill being signed into law—the lobbying also thwarted the ability of citizens to put the proposal to a democratic vote through a referendum, including by funding television advertisements that falsely claimed that China was “intertwining themselves financially in our energy infrastructure” and threatening “national security,” implying that not going through with the nuclear bailout would somehow lead to Chinese control of Ohio’s power grid. As confronting climate change gets in the way of corporate profits, such dirty battles are sure to emerge more often.
Renewable energy plants, of course, cost very little to operate since they don’t need any fuel. Thus, already existing renewable plants will remain far cheaper than nuclear plants. With natural gas plants, the comparison with nuclear plants depends on the cost of natural gas; thanks to fracking, for the last many years, natural gas plants have also lowered their operational costs to way below that of nuclear reactors.A dirty battle for a nuclear bailout in Ohio – Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists