|Members heard from a group of young opponents representing Empowering
Youth, Exploring Justice (EYEJ) and received written-only opposition testimony from
several more. Its youth council social policy lead, Anjali Patel, said the bill
fails to seriously address the "injustices of the digital divide" and
"For example, this bill intentionally excludes cooperative utilities or
publicly owned networks from participating in the solution …," Patel said.
"These limitations instead empower large companies such AT&T or
Charter Spectrum, two prominent networks that already exist in the city of
Cleveland. We cannot make the mistake of placing the wellbeing of our
residents’ education, health and work in the hands of these monopolies again."
She said many Cleveland metro neighborhoods suffer from "digital
redlining" in which large Internet providers allegedly skip high-poverty
"This largely affects people of color, leading to poorer health outcomes,
lower graduation rates and generally fewer opportunities for success. These
unserved and underserved communities will continue to suffer under the care of
these large corporations and the digital divide will grow deeper," said
EYEJ member Treyah Gray linked broadband gaps to the rising domestic abuse of
children under COVID-19.
"The support systems that many at-risk parents rely on, such as extended
family, child care and schools, religious groups and other community
organizations, are no longer available in many areas due to the stay-at-home
orders," Gray said, suggesting HB13 was introduced only to "better
accommodate the enemy" of large corporate providers.
EYEJ founder and incoming CEO Mai Moore presented testimony on behalf of group
member Yumi Ndhlovu. She said the bill hurts rural and urban communities alike
and keeps Cleveland, Columbus and Cincinnati among the worst adopters of
"The ?recent scandal involving utility executives and public officials in
Ohio reveals what can happen when too much economic power is concentrated in
the hands of massive companies and monopoly utilities. Companies like
FirstEnergy can use their excessive economic power to dominate regulators and
legislators -- and undermine democracy in the process," Ndholovu said.
"Unfortunately, these systemic problems are also weighing down Ohio’s
efforts to meaningfully expand access to high-quality broadband across the
Chairman Wilson expressed sympathy with their concerns but explained that HB13,
like much legislation, takes "baby steps" toward solving policy
concerns, including Internet access.
"Many of us have been fighting for that to change. When kids had to stay
home and when many parents had to stay home to work, that brought the problem
to the forefront," Wilson said of COVID-19. "This bill addresses
accessibility to a small degree, but it's a first step. It does not address
Moore had noted Cleveland supposedly began working on the digital divide as far
back as 2003, with modest results.
"This is unacceptable. Cleveland is the worst city for being connected in
America," she said.
Sen. Burke wondered why Cleveland's broadband network would be worse than
Ohio's other major cities. Sen. Craig interjected to say that Columbus has the
"It is a very complex issue. It is a very serious issue," Craig said.
"It's critically important that we talk about the implications for all our
Minorities Together Movement (MTM) Leader Ethan Khorana also spoke as an
opponent, comparing Internet redlining to lending inequities in minority
"In 2015, a study by the U.S. Census Bureau showed that 36 percent of
African-American homes and 30 percent of Hispanic homes did not have a computer
or a broadband subscription," Khorana said, "and in East Cleveland
and central Cleveland they have a 57 percent Internet deficit."
He said a Cleveland Metropolitan School District survey of parents found 40
percent of homes lacked Internet access, and that the bill was unlikely to
improve the situation.
"HB13 will give grants to big companies to build networks in areas that
have none. In Cleveland, these companies were given the same opportunity and
specifically skipped over Glenville, Hough, Fairfax, South Collinwood and
Clark-Fulton, all neighborhoods with an 81 percent Black and Latino population
or higher," Khorana said.
Sens. Williams and Burke questioned whether broadband hadn't in fact gone into
these neighborhoods. Khorana said he could provide the data.
Giving them digital access is one of the best ways to improve those
neighborhoods without gentrifying those neighborhoods," he said.
The Buckeye Institute submitted written-only interested-party testimony.
The committee heard
interested-party remarks from Energy and Environmental Policy Director
Stephanie Kromer of the Ohio Chamber of Commerce, General Counsel Michael Kurtz
of Ohio Energy Group, Senior Policy Consultant Jon Paul Morrow of eGeneration
Foundation, and Seneca County Commissioner Shayne Thomas.
Kromer addressed not only SB346 but also "any other bills that seek to
repeal HB6, either completely or partially," including HB772.
Citing rare "consensus" on the issue among the chamber's diverse
members, she said on the one hand that they all believe HB6 should be
"repealed" but also that various members support or oppose different
portions of the energy subsidy bill.
"We instead ask that you only repeal HB6 in tandem with comprehensive
reforms to Ohio’s energy policy that both balances a diverse portfolio or
energy sources and provides for reliable, affordable sources of energy,"
Chairman Wilson expressed confusion about her objective -- either a wholesale
repeal or some modification of HB6.
"Which does the chamber want?" he asked, suggesting the Senate
already had provided at least part of her request.
"I would say that we repealed the House's HB6 and totally replaced it, and
the governor signed it," Wilson said.
He said an immediate repeal without additional modifications would commence a
lengthy period of legislative debate over further amendments to energy policy
without addressing her cost concerns in the short term. Kromer reiterated that
the chamber is seeking to balance the various members. The chairman asked her to follow up with an
answer to the following question:
"Do you want it repealed now, no matter what?" Wilson said, noting
the alternative would be to repeal and replace with some other language.
Kromer said she would, also telling Sen. Williams that the chamber agrees with
the Legislative Service Commission's (LSC) fiscal analysis.
Kurtz cited OEG's past support for HB6 and its surprise at subsequent
revelations of alleged political bribes, calling many of its provisions
"good policy." Among those, he said, are the rollback of renewable
portfolio standards (RPS) and the currently scheduled termination of energy
efficiency (EE) and peak demand reduction (PDR) requirements at the end of
"The total pre-HB6 EE/PDR and RPS subsidy payments over … six years were
$1.947 billion …," he said. "In May 2020, LSC concluded that by
replacing the very costly uncapped pre-HB6 EE/PDR and RPS subsidies with the
less costly capped nuclear, large solar and scaled-back RPS subsidies, HB6 will
actually save all residential, commercial and industrial consumers $2.357
billion over the 2020-2030 period."
On nuclear subsidies, Kurtz noted Illinois and New Jersey have recently enacted
their own nuclear bailouts based on the same concerns as Ohio Perry and
Davis-Besse plants' over the FERC/PJM wholesale energy and capacity markets'
lack of valuation for the zero carbon and "resilient" base load of
"Those actions were both upheld by the federal courts as not being in
conflict with the Federal Power Act or Commerce Clause," he said, adding
that OEG takes no position on nuclear subsidies per se.
"If current policy makers decide that Ohio’s nuclear power plants should
continue to be subsidized to help ensure their continued operation, then it may
be appropriate to more fully verify that the level of subsidy is justified by
financial need. The determination of financial need would be through enhanced
PUCO and Ohio Air Quality Development Authority (OAQDA) oversight," Kurtz
said, attaching a breakdown of what that statutory language might look like.
On coal subsidies, he noted HB6 only enshrines ratepayer supports for the Ohio
Valley Electric Corporation (OVEC) previously imposed by the Public Utilities Commission
of Ohio (PUCO), and that its repeal will not eliminate the charge.
Sen. Burke asked whether a straight repeal would raise rates on residential,
commercial/institutional and industrial consumers alike. Kurtz said it would.
"Couldn't you say subsidies to numerous corporations is the same as
subsidies to a singular corporation?" Burke added, comparing RPS mandates
to nuclear payments. The witness did not disagree.
Burke noted "the next administration" could impose carbon
cap-and-trade, making zero-emissions nuclear energy quite valuable.
"If those nuclear power plants went offline … is it a reasonable energy
policy to invest where you believe you're actually getting results?" he
Kurtz again did not disagree, adding that a state-level subsidy might quickly
give way to new revenue streams under a different administration.
On that note, he added that the current 26 percent federal tax credit for solar
generation can be "monetized," and that wind energy receives a tax
credit of $16-18 per megawatt hour.
Sen. Dolan asked for his thoughts on wind energy as a whole. Kurtz said OEG has
not taken a position.
Morrow said the free market actually has increased electric charges on Ohioans.
"At the same time as we have falling prices for the feedstocks to make
energy, our costs have risen dramatically, leaving everyone that cares to look
at the actual data to ask how has deregulation benefited Ohioans?" he
"As a free-market economist, this is indeed perplexing. How can the
government be better at something than the free-market?" he asked
Answering his own question, Morrow called energy a "macro-market"
rather than a "micro-market."
"Government is good at coordinating very complex projects where you need a
high degree of cooperation. This coordination brings an intelligent design to
very complex projects rather than organic growth, which may never provide the
efficiencies of intelligent design," he said. "If you do not need
innovation to drive technology growth to be responsive to consumers, the
government can be very good at providing a benefit to consumers," Morrow
added, citing the national highway system.
He also questioned the "war on coal" and suggested combined-cycle
natural gas plants might not keep up with electric demand in another polar
Morrow said HB6 lowered the cost of electricity for all Ohioans by doing away
with EE mandates and RPS.
"I think Ohioans do not want to pay more for energy, even if they are
paying less due to unethical behavior," he said. "I think Ohioans
want to have clean air. Removing two nuclear power plants will not make Ohio’s
Morrow had not identified his affiliation until Sen. Huffman asked whether he
represented any interests. That is when the witness explained the eGeneration
supports nuclear energy, especially in its developing forms.
Thomas called for a "balanced conversation on energy policy after HB6's
repeal," which he said should address the future of nuclear energy in
"I stand with my fellow commissioners in Ottawa County in seeking a
solution for Davis Besse if one is needed. As a former banker, I am resolute in
the need to have an advanced audit of the financial need to protect our
ratepayers from unnecessary fees," he said, nevertheless calling the
nuclear plant a "welcome neighbor" to his Port Clinton condo.
"We need carbon-free electrical generation, and we need a diversified
energy portfolio, but all of this is a discussion for a replacement bill."
Numerous other parties submitted written-only interested-party testimony, with
one opposing submission.