Columbus, Cincinnati File Lawsuit To Stop New Electric Bill Charges

Oct 27, 2020

Leaders in Columbus and Cincinnati have filed a lawsuit in an attempt to stop new charges from appearing on electric bills next year created through HB6, which is at the heart of an alleged corruption scandal.

Federal prosecutors say a bribery scheme helped get HB6 passed into law. The bill, among several things, bails out nuclear power plants with $150 million in annual ratepayer subsidies. 

Columbus City Attorney Zach Klein says their lawsuit seeks to stop those charges on electric bills. 

"To make sure all Ohioans get to keep the money that House Bill 6 requires them to pay," says Klein.

Residential ratepayers will see a new $0.85 charge on monthly electric bills to pay for the nuclear power plant subsidy. An additional $20 million a year will be generated through that charge for solar farms.

The lawsuit claims the new charge on electric bills is an unconstitutional tax, a notable argument since last year opponents of HB6 had to argue the new rate hike was not a tax in order to attempt a citizen's referendum. 

In 2019, the owner of the Davis-Besse and Perry nuclear power plants under the name FirstEnergy Solutions, filed an argument in Ohio Supreme Court saying a referendum attempt should be blocked. FirstEnergy Solutions, now known as Energy Harbor, said the new charges were a tax and therefore not subject to a referendum.

Opponents of HB6 said the new electric bill charges could not be considered a new tax since rate increases are frequently implemented through the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio and taxes must be approved by the state legislature. The Ohio Supreme Court decided to not weigh-in on that issue.

The lawsuit names FirstEnergy as a defendant, but the hundreds of millions of dollars in subsidies will not go to FirstEnergy rather the former subsidiary, Energy Harbor.  

"We believe that FirstEnergy has inseparable ties to the origination and purpose of HB6. Additionally because the State of Ohio is required to collect and disperse the fees, we feel comfortable at this time to list Ohio governmental actors and FirstEnergy as the defendants. Of course, if we learn more as facts are uncovered, we will amend our complaint accordingly," Klein said.

The Ohio House and Ohio Senate have put a potential repeal of HB6 on hold until after the election. A federal investigation accuses former House Speaker Larry Householder (R-Glenford) of playing a role in a $60 million racketeering scheme that used dark money funds to get HB6 passed. Prosecutors also allege Householder used that money for personal and political gain.

The investigation says a utility, widely believed to be FirstEnergy, and affiliates funneled millions of dollars into the dark money group to get the $1 billion bailout. FirstEnergy CEO Chuck Jones has said he believes his company "acted properly in this matter."