Nuclear power bailout stalled in Harrisburg as feds allege bribes fueled Ohio aid package

An effort to help Pennsylvania’s nuclear power industry snag an estimated $500 million a year ratepayer bailout should not be hurt by an alleged bribery scandal involving FirstEnergy Corp. in Ohio, a state representative said.

Federal prosecutors say the Akron-based company pumped $15 million into a $60 million pot of money to ensure a $1.3 billion bailout for two Ohio power plants. A criminal complaint unsealed Tuesday alleges that Ohio Speaker of the House Larry Householder and others took the money in exchange for securing the bailout.

A similar bailout has been proposed in Pennsylvania.

Bills introduced in the state House and Senate last year would classify nuclear power plants under the alternative energy portfolio standards, with power from those plants to be purchased, and will help Pennsylvania workers retain jobs and help ensure a reliable source of power, said State Rep. Thomas Mehaffie III, R-Hershey, the prime sponsor of the House initiative.

The nuclear power industry lined up behind the bill, while the natural gas industry targeted the proposal, Mehaffie said.

When the Pennsylvania bills were introduced, “the lobbying from both sides was intense,” Mehaffie said. “You had people all over the place.”

The Pennsylvania Public Utilities Commission projected the changes to the alternative energy portfolio will cost customers between $460 million and $550 million a year. Both bills remain stalled in the consumer affairs committee. No vote is scheduled in either chamber.

“It’s not going to be brought out of committee,” said Tim Joyce, a spokesman for state Sen. Jim Brewster, a McKeesport Democrat. While Brewster believes the bill is good for the state, it may remain in the committee for the rest of the legislative sessions this year, Joyce said.

State Rep. Eric Nelson, R-Hempfield, a member of the House Consumer Affairs Committee, could not be reached for comment.

One nuclear power plant that would benefit from the bailout is the Beaver Valley Power Plant at Shippingport, formerly owned by FirstEnergy, parent company of West Penn Power Co. of Greensburg. FirstEnergy created FirstEnergy Solutions to operate the utility’s nuclear and coal-fired power plants. The spin-off filed for bankruptcy in 2018 and emerged last February under the name Energy Harbor.

Ohio’s nuclear power bailout, passed last year, made headlines in recent days after federal prosecutors filed an 82-page complaint accusing Householder and four others of being involved in a “criminal enterprise” that collected $60 million in bribes from an energy company, which was not named in court records. Energy Harbor owns the two nuclear plants that benefited from the Ohio bailout.

On Friday, FirstEnergy CEO Charles Jones denied any wrongdoing on the part of himself or the company.

”I have no worries. The facts will become clear,” Jones said, adding that he never paid a lobbyist or directed a lobbyist to participate in any illegal activity.

Jones acknowledged that the company employs lobbyists, but did not offer any information on whether those lobbyists were active in the legislative battle in Harrisburg.

Jones told analysts during a quarterly earnings report that the company gave $15 million to a political action committee to aid nuclear power plant production for which he said they had no involvement and no corporate executives performing roles in both companies. He said they had no control over how the money was spent.

He also would not say anything about the $60 million. He only mentioned that other entities, which he declined to reveal, contributed the remainder of the money.

The PUC annual reports for FirstEnergy’s four companies in Pennsylvania — West Penn Power, Pennsylvania Power, Pennsylvania Electric and Metropolitan Edison — spent $108,000 on political and civic-related expenses in 2018, the last year for which the documents were available.

Joe Napsha is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Joe at 724-836-5252, jnapsha@triblive.com or via Twitter .

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Business | Local | Pennsylvania | Westmoreland

Published at Sat, 25 Jul 2020 09:00:00 +0000

Source: Nuclear power bailout stalled in Harrisburg as feds allege bribes fueled Ohio aid package.

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