Hundreds of IBEW jobs in Ohio could be in serious jeopardy if the state’s Legislature fails to pass a bill to keep two nuclear plants open.
“This is not a political issue,” said International President Lonnie R. Stephenson. “We need this bill in Ohio because the impact of closing these plants would be catastrophic to the workers and their families and to their friends, neighbors and local communities.”
The measure is the Ohio Clean Air Program Bill (House Bill 6), introduced in January by Republicans Jamie Callender and Shane Wilkin. Among the bill’s proposals are provisions designed to help support carbon-free baseload energy generation at the state’s only two nuclear power stations: FirstEnergy Solutions’ Davis-Besse plant outside Toledo, and its sister facility, Perry, near Cleveland.
“Our sisters and brothers work hundreds of thousands of hours a year in these plants, providing the kind of carbon-free grid stability you don’t get anywhere else,” said Fourth District Vice President Brian Malloy. “Investing such a tiny amount in these plants and these workers will pay off many times over for the state of Ohio.”
Davis-Besse was the state’s first nuclear power station, a single-reactor facility that started operation in 1977. About 400 IBEW members work there, with Toledo Local 8 providing construction and maintenance workers, along with members represented by Toledo Local 245 doing in-plant work and Toledo Local 1413 covering security workers. Coming online a decade after Davis-Besse, the Perry plant employs members of Painesville, Ohio, Local 673, who perform construction and maintenance work there.
H.B. 6 calls for adding a modest $1 fee to the bill of every FirstEnergy customer in the state beginning in 2020. Most of that money would go toward helping sustain both nuclear plants, which have struggled financially in recent years due to plunging natural gas prices and energy pricing factors that disadvantage baseload generation.
“This is about jobs,” said Malloy, who noted that some of the funds raised by H.B. 6 also would benefit Buckeye State IBEW members by supporting job-creating solar energy generation projects, including five planned utility-grade solar farms. One of those is a 400-megawatt American Electric Power facility in Highland County, set to be built in part by members of Portsmouth, Ohio, Local 575.
“This bill has been going back and forth in different versions for years,” said Fourth District International Representative Dave Moran, who testified in favor of the current measure during a May 22 state House Energy and Natural Resources Committee hearing. (The IBEW’s Fourth District covers Ohio as well as the District of Columbia, Kentucky, Maryland, West Virginia and Virginia.)
But interest groups for the gas industry like Americans for Prosperity and the American Petroleum Institute have been waging a full-bore battle against H.B. 6 and similar bills for a simple reason, Moran explained: “Allow the nuclear plants to close and gas would basically become the only game in town.”
The bill was approved on May 29 by the state’s full House of Representatives on a bipartisan 53-43 vote. “It was a big win for the IBEW,” Moran said. “But it wasn’t the end of it.”
Malloy agreed. “If you were to ask me a year ago if we could get a bill passed, I didn’t have a lot of hope,” he said. “But Local 245 Business Manager Larry Tscherne and Local 1413 Business Manager Brad Goetz never gave up. They kept it on the radar, which in turn kept me and other people focused on the issue.
“All our local unions definitely stepped up and lobbied their reps,” the vice president said. “The members never let up. They know what’s at stake.”
In fact, IBEW activists across Ohio, in coordination with representatives of local and statewide trades councils, for months have made phone calls and attended key legislative hearings, Malloy said.
“We stressed that we are for ‘all of the above:’ renewables, nuclear, gas,” he said. “We also stressed jobs, clean energy, and the devastation to communities if either of those plants close.”
Still, the closure threat continues to loom. “Something needs to happen by the end of June,” Moran said, explaining that if FirstEnergy is not assured by then that a rescue bill will be signed into law, the company will be forced to determine whether it can afford to proceed with Davis-Besse’s next scheduled biennial refueling or whether it should start planning the shutdown of both plants.
“If we don’t get this bill passed, both plants will close,” Moran said — Davis-Besse as early as next year, with Perry following suit in 2021.
H.B. 6 now awaits consideration by Ohio’s Senate, where hearings on it are expected to begin quickly. “We have a lot of work left to do,” Malloy said.
Moran noted that Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine has stated that he is in favor of nuclear power and has generally signaled support support for H.B. 6.
IBEW activists have been hard at work, pressing representatives from both political parties to support this job-saving bill and urging all of their Buckeye State brothers and sisters to do the same.
“No form letters or petitions, but one-on-one contact with the people that vote for them,” Malloy stressed. “It’s the personal touch that works.”
Moran said that Vice President Malloy had himself personally contacted every local in Ohio. “We asked business managers from every branch of the IBEW to use their relationships with local politicians,” he said. “We got a lot of support from every local so far. They are engaged because they know this affects all of us.”
Members in Ohio can visit ohiosenate.gov/senators/district-map to find out how they can tell their senator to support H.B. 6 as written when it comes up for a vote.