Tue., Dec. 1, 2020
Sen. Wilson: 614-466-9737
HB13RESIDENTIAL BROADBAND (Carfagna R) To establish the residential broadband expansion program and to make an appropriation.
 Third Hearing
 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 "Internet equity."

"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 areas.

"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 Patel.

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 seamless Internet.

"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 state."

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 affordability."

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 same problems.

"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 young people."

Minorities Together Movement (MTM) Leader Ethan Khorana also spoke as an opponent, comparing Internet redlining to lending inequities in minority communities.

"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.
SB346REPEAL HB6 (O'Brien S) To repeal the changes made by H.B. 6 of the 133rd General Assembly to the laws governing electric service, renewable energy, and energy efficiency and the changes made to other related laws.
 Fifth Hearing

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," Kromer said.

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 2020.

"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 nuclear energy.

"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 said.

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 said.

"As a free-market economist, this is indeed perplexing. How can the government be better at something than the free-market?" he asked rhetorically.

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 vortex.

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 air cleaner."

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 Ohio.

"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.
HB104NUCLEAR DEVELOPMENT (Stein D) To enact the Advanced Nuclear Technology Helping Energize Mankind (ANTHEM) Act by establishing the Ohio Nuclear Development Authority and the Ohio Nuclear Development Consortium and authorizing tax credits for investments therein.
 Third Hearing

Senior Policy Consultant Jon Paul Morrow of eGeneration Foundation provided interested-party testimony in the absence of the group's executive chairman, William Thesling, a familiar voice on Capitol Square for molten salt nuclear reactors. Morrow said technological advancements since policymakers abandoned molten salt reactors (MSR) in the early 1970s make them a strategic alternative to Ohio's existing nuclear technology. He said they are simpler, more efficient and much cheaper, with a potential energy cost close to zero.

Numerous other witnesses submitted written-only opponent testimony.