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This periodic e-newsletter offers updates on Ohio’s ongoing utility corruption scandal and is a joint venture of the Energy Information Community and Eye on Ohio, the nonprofit, nonpartisan Ohio Heart for Journalism.

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New developments within the saga surrounding Home Invoice 6, Ohio’s nuclear and coal bailout regulation, embrace:

  • Large outages throughout a June warmth wave set off criticism of lawmakers, regulators and utilities within the wake of HB 6.
  • FirstEnergy and different events use a dismissal movement to get round a choose’s push for fact-finding earlier than he approves a settlement settlement.
  • FirstEnergy’s proposal to mix three Ohio utilities sparks issues about extra earnings and transparency.
  • A former chair of the Public Utilities Fee of Ohio texted he knew a cost was doubtless illegal however FirstEnergy would maintain the cash anyway.
  • The Cleveland Metropolis Council has known as for FirstEnergy to relinquish naming rights for the Cleveland Browns stadium.
  • A pending invoice would let the Ohio customers’ counsel nominate one PUCO commissioner.

Sizzling stuff

Home Invoice 6 didn’t instantly trigger Ohio’s massive power outages in mid-June. Many timber fell throughout a serious storm. And a warmth wave significantly elevated electrical energy demand and strained an ageing grid, resulting in intentional utility outages to attenuate tools harm. 

Such excessive climate is extra doubtless as local weather change continues. And the gutting of Ohio’s clear energy requirements and subsidies to previous coal crops thwarted steps utilities and policymakers ought to have taken to make the grid extra resilient within the face of local weather change, critics stated.

“Mike DeWine had the chance to spend money on modernizing our utility techniques and diversifying our energy technology in Ohio,” stated Spencer Dirrig, political director for the Conservation Ohio PAC. “As a substitute, Gov. DeWine selected to facet with the corrupt utilities bankrolling his political campaigns, signing the worst energy invoice within the nation and subjecting Ohioans to greater prices and energy companies. Accountability for this disaster lands squarely on the governor’s toes.”

“The plain hyperlink is the elimination of energy effectivity applications,” stated Ashley Brown, a former member of the Public Utilities Fee of Ohio. Steps to reduce peak demand, use of time-of-day pricing and different demand-response applications might have let utilities deal with the scenario a lot better. 

As a substitute, utilities’ incentive beneath HB 6 was simply to “throw electrical energy at prospects and that’s it — and use soiled coal crops to do it,” Brown stated. Cash spent on coal crops added to greenhouse fuel emissions that drive local weather change, as an alternative of creating the grid extra resilient. “Ohio is quickly marching backward,” he stated.

“The facility outages and rolling blackouts are a case of electrical utilities placing revenue above the service supplied to residents,” stated Trish Demeter, appearing interim director for the Ohio Environmental Council. “For years, utilities have used their earnings to foyer elected officers on the Statehouse to permit them to take extra of our cash and supply much less efficient companies.”

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Settlement might stop doc disclosures

A federal court docket submitting might let FirstEnergy and different events make an finish run round a choose’s efforts to get extra details earlier than approving a settlement.

The settlement impacts three pending instances and would resolve claims introduced on behalf of the corporate for alleged wrongdoing by its administrators and officers. The settlement would supply some reimbursement to the corporate and repay authorized charges, principally from insurance coverage.

The choose in a single case gave a preliminary thumbs up to the deal final month. U.S. District Court docket Choose John Adams, who presides in one of many different instances, needed discovery to maneuver forward first. When that didn’t occur, Adams ordered the events to elucidate why he shouldn’t order different attorneys to step in.

On June 10, FirstEnergy and different events moved to dismiss the case “with out prejudice.” In principle, meaning it could possibly be refiled later. However approval of the settlement deal in one other case would block future instances with the identical claims. Separate filings argued no new counsel ought to be appointed in mild of all of the work that went into the settlement. Adams has not but dominated on the filings.

At difficulty is how a lot oversight courts can virtually train over settlements in shareholder by-product instances. The events’ transfer additionally could defend essential details from coming to mild.

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Combining utilities

FirstEnergy is trying to mix its three Ohio utilities, CEO Steven Strah stated on the firm’s Could 17 shareholder assembly. “It’s nonetheless early within the complete overview course of,” stated spokesperson Jennifer Younger. Any mixture would wish regulatory overview, she famous.

The plan might present administrative efficiencies and simpler entry to capital. FirstEnergy Service Firm, an unregulated affiliate, already performs some widespread actions for utilities. Recent audits famous poor monitoring of utility funds after they went right into a joint cash pool.

FirstEnergy’s plan additionally “might circumvent a 2008 law requiring refunds of too-high earnings charged to customers,” stated Merrilee Embs, spokesperson for Ohio Shoppers’ Counsel Bruce Weston. HB 6 had let FirstEnergy common its calculations amongst its three utilities, which let it maintain tens of millions extra in earnings in comparison with making determinations for every one individually. That change was repealed final 12 months.

Strah’s assembly feedback additionally touted progress towards lowering greenhouse fuel emissions. Nevertheless, it might take till 2050 for FirstEnergy to transition away from coal in West Virginia.

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Textual content speak

Utility affect in Ohio authorities apparently goes additional again in time than FirstEnergy’s dealings with former PUCO Chair Sam Randazzo. Asim Haque chaired the Public Utilities Fee of Ohio earlier than Randazzo. After he left to work at PJM, Haque texted a former FirstEnergy vice chairman that he knew a credit support rider “would doubtless be held unlawful and couldn’t be refunded.”

Haque despatched the texts on the identical day the Ohio Supreme Court docket case held the cost illegal. However as a result of the PUCO didn’t make the cost refundable, the court docket let FirstEnergy maintain roughly $456 million.

Critics stated the texts had been inappropriate and additional undermine public confidence within the equity and integrity of the PUCO. Haque stated his remarks had been tongue-in-cheek. He additionally famous that the 2016 ruling gave FirstEnergy a lot lower than the corporate had sought.

Haque’s feedback don’t clarify why the PUCO refused to make the cost nonrefundable. Much more uncommon was that the concept for the rider apparently originated with the PUCO as a substitute for a digital energy buy plan that was broadly opposed.

“Clearly somebody was intervening to pressure his hand,” steered former PUCO commissioner Ashley Brown. 

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Regulatory reform

A invoice launched on Could 31 would require the governor to call one PUCO commissioner from candidates nominated by the Ohio customers’ counsel. Republican Reps. Laura Lanese of Grove Metropolis and Gayle Manning of North Ridgeville are major sponsors of HB 690. Further co-sponsors embrace each Republicans and Democrats.

The invoice is “particularly essential given the PUCO is out-of-balance with two of 5 commissioners having previously labored for the utility business,” stated Ohio Shoppers’ Counsel Bruce Weston. “Only recently the PUCO even had three of 5 commissioners who had labored for utilities — till a FirstEnergy scandal led the previous PUCO chair to resign.” The invoice has not but been assigned to a committee.

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‘The Bribery Bunch’

Ohio Citizen Motion continues its Crime with DeWine marketing campaign, calling for the governor to refuse marketing campaign cash from utilities and take affirmative steps to forestall corruption. A June 7 parody of The Brady Bunch theme garnered 62,000 views within the week after its launch.

“The Bribery Bunch is our marketing campaign’s ‘elevator speech,’” stated CEO Rachael Belz. “In a single minute, it shortly tells the story of how we acquired to the place we’re in the present day with Ohio’s most appalling scandal.”

No prices have been introduced towards DeWine and Husted. Nevertheless, they “are decision-makers that allowed HB 6 to grow to be regulation,” Belz stated. A lot of the regulation stays on the books. And neither DeWine nor Husted has taken steps to scale back utility affect and reform regulation within the wake of HB 6.

“They’re now liable for persevering with the tradition of corruption in Ohio by not coping with it,” Belz stated.

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The title sport

A June 7 resolution by Cleveland Metropolis Council requires removing of FirstEnergy’s title from the Browns soccer stadium. The decision formally condemns FirstEnergy’s function within the HB 6 corruption scandal.

Nevertheless, the decision just isn’t binding. Roughly seven years stay on the $102 million naming rights contract between FirstEnergy and the Cleveland Browns.

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Energy Efficiency

US energy sector job growth outpaced overall employment in 2021, report finds



US energy sector job growth outpaced overall employment in 2021, report finds

US energy sector job progress outpaced total employment in 2021, report finds

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Energy Efficiency

Georgia Power launches coal ash use project in at Plant Bowen



Georgia Power launches coal ash use project in at Plant Bowen

Georgia Energy launches coal ash use challenge in at Plant Bowen

Home Coal Georgia Energy launches coal ash use challenge at Plant Bowen

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Energy Efficiency

Will carbon capture help clean N.M. power?



Will carbon capture help clean N.M. power?

This story is co-published with High Country News, a nonprofit media group that covers points and tales that outline the Western United States.

As New Mexico lawmakers had been placing the ending touches on landmark laws to assist employees and communities transition from the closure of the state’s largest coal plant, the town of Farmington had different plans. 

“We have now reached a milestone that few individuals thought remotely potential,” Metropolis Supervisor Rob Mayes told the local newspaper in February 2019. An settlement was introduced between the town and a New York holding agency known as Acme Equities to maintain the ageing San Juan Producing Station working previous its scheduled 2022 retirement date. 

The state’s largest utility, Public Service Firm of New Mexico, or PNM, had deliberate to retire the large coal-fired energy plant, eliminating tons of of jobs and tens of millions in native tax income that the 2019 Energy Transition Act supposed to deal with. 

After working behind the scenes for months, although, native officers as a substitute threw their help behind an obscure actual property hedge fund promising to maintain the plant and its related mine open by putting in the most important carbon seize system on an influence plant thus far — by far. 

The $1.4 billion plan baffled energy-economics consultants. In spite of everything, PNM was abandoning the plant into which it had simply invested tens of millions of {dollars} in pollution-control expertise as a result of it was now not economically tenable. It merely didn’t pencil out, as Karl Cates and Dennis Wamsted, of the Institute for Energy Economics and Monetary Evaluation IEEFA detailed in a July 2019 report

“IEEFA doesn’t see a lot probability of the challenge going ahead,” Cates and Wamsted wrote, “and the ensuing liabilities to the town, both approach, are probably vital.” 

Acme’s bid has been extra sturdy than critics anticipated, although. Three years later, with the plant’s closure impending, the trouble remains to be alive beneath a brand new title, Enchant Energy. And regardless of setbacks, missed benchmarks and questions in regards to the scheme’s viability, Enchant Energy continues to say it’s going to take over the plant later this summer time. 

Banking on tech and tax credit

Beneath the association, when PNM and the opposite house owners exit the San Juan plant, it’s going to depart the town of Farmington as its sole proprietor. Farmington will then switch the 95% stake to Enchant for $1 beneath the settlement. In change, the Farmington utility will proceed to obtain energy and, extra importantly, the financial advantages, from the continued operation of the plant and mine.

The San Juan Producing Station emits giant quantities of carbon dioxide. This coal-fired, electric energy plant positioned in northwestern New Mexico is located adjoining to the San Juan Coal Mine. Credit score: Jeremy Wade Shockley / for the Energy Information Community

In response to Enchant displays to state legislators and the U.S. Division of Energy, it could then spend an estimated $1.2 billion to retrofit the plant with amine-based carbon capture gear just like that used at Petra Nova, a coal plant in Texas. A further $200 million or extra could be spent for carbon transportation and subterranean storage infrastructure. This would come with a brand new carbon dioxide pipeline to faucet into an current line that carries the gasoline from southwest Colorado to the oilfields of the Permian Basin, the place it’s pumped into ageing wells to stimulate manufacturing, a course of often called enhanced oil restoration. 

Enchant plans to go to the tax fairness market, utilizing one thing known as part 45Q of the federal tax code, to boost capital to construct the contraption. The challenge “may be economically profitable as a result of underlying markets and applied sciences in addition to IRS Part 45Q tax credit,” mentioned Enchant Energy CEO Cindy Crane, in an e mail to the Energy Information Community.

The brand new guidelines provide a $35-per-ton credit score for carbon used for enhanced oil restoration and $50 per ton for geologically sequestering it with out utilizing it for oil manufacturing. The inducement might add as much as as a lot as $300 million per yr for Enchant if it captures as a lot carbon because it hopes to. However these aren’t direct funds, they’re tax credit, which means Enchant should promote them prematurely. 

“What we’re going to do,” Enchant co-founder Jason Selch advised E&E News in 2019, is “increase the cash to construct the challenge by monetizing the long run stream of tax credit.” An organization or investor that wants a tax credit score would purchase a share of the challenge in return for later receiving a portion of the credit. 

The Carbon Seize Coalition has been lobbying Congress to permit for direct money funds slightly than simply tax rebates, however thus far has been unsuccessful. It has, nonetheless, managed to slide a rise within the credit score quantities, in addition to direct fee, into the stalled Construct Again Higher invoice — each of which might be a boon to the challenge. 

Enchant additionally relies on different federal subsidies. Along with a $17.5 million federal grant for New Mexico Tech to check the feasibility of completely sequestering the captured carbon close by, the Energy Division has dedicated almost $6 million for an engineering research, which has but to be accomplished, in response to filings with the DOE. In a report back to the division, Enchant mentioned it’s now angling for federal infrastructure funds and looking out into the DOE Mortgage Program and Rural Utilities Service Loans.

As soon as the system is up and operating, in response to a pre-feasibility research, the coal plant would proceed to function because it has for the final 5 many years: Coal is burned to generate steam to show generators to generate electrical energy, producing exhaust, or flue gasoline. As an alternative of sending the flue gasoline out the smokestacks, nonetheless, will probably be “pre-scrubbed” of sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides earlier than an amine solvent absorbs the CO2 from the scrubbed gasoline. (Amine is derived from ammonia, which is derived from pure gasoline through the carbon-intensive Haber-Bosch course of). The CO2 would then be faraway from the amine solvent, leading to a stream of carbon dioxide and steam, which works into the compressor, the place the steam is eliminated and the carbon dioxide is pressurized into pipeline-grade CO2. Enchant says it’s going to seize 90% of the plant’s carbon emissions, which at present working ranges would add as much as about 5.2 million tons per yr.

It’s an energy-intensive course of, to place it mildly. Petra Nova’s carbon seize gear gulped up a lot juice that it required its own, new natural gas-fired generator, sans carbon seize, in response to the federal Energy Data Administration. Enchant Energy estimates it’s going to use about 30% of the energy generated by the San Juan Producing Station — or sufficient to energy 160,000 households — to run the carbon seize gear. 

This is called parasitic load, which Mike Eisenfeld, energy and local weather director of the San Juan Residents Alliance, a Durango-based environmental group, says is a critical disadvantage, leaving the corporate much less electrical energy to promote and additional diminishing the monetary viability of the plan. 

Mike Eisenfeld, with San Juan Residents Alliance, close to his dwelling in Farmington, New Mexico; the Glade Run Recreation Space serves as a backdrop. Credit score: Jeremy Wade Shockley / for the Energy Information Community

Enchant, nonetheless, spins it as an asset: Enchant’s carbon seize gear is a built-in buyer for one-third of the ability Enchant produces. This may increasingly appear convoluted, however it suits into the carbon seize logic, wherein an influence plant that spews carbon dioxide as an undesirable byproduct is actually remodeled right into a carbon manufacturing facility with electrical energy as a fascinating byproduct. 

A number of coal vegetation have been semi-successfully retrofitted with carbon seize gear, however the San Juan Producing Station challenge could be the most important thus far — by far. The obvious buyer for electrical energy from the plant was utility PNM, however they aren’t interested by shopping for it, as PNM CEO Pat Vincent-Collawn emphasized in an investors’ call shortly after the deal was introduced. Different utilities are shying away from coal energy, as effectively, for each financial and environmental causes.

Enchant initially deliberate to promote the CO2 to Permian Basin oil producers for enhanced oil restoration. However when oil costs crashed throughout the pandemic, so too did the oilfield markets for carbon dioxide. Petra Nova, which was retrofitted by oil and gasoline firms particularly for enhanced oil restoration, shut down in 2020 for this very purpose. It has but to start out working once more, whilst oil costs have shot up above $100 per barrel. In response, Enchant has pivoted to give attention to sequestering the carbon underground, with the choice of piping it to oilfields if the financial surroundings is ripe. 

Missed deadlines

Enchant’s 2019 aim of getting the carbon seize gear in place by the point PNM exited has confirmed to be overly bold. The corporate repeatedly has missed its personal deadlines for crucial benchmarks similar to securing financing, energy buy agreements, coal contracts, transmission entry, or permits from federal and state regulators. 

This has heightened skepticism surrounding the plan. Final spring the IEEFA released a report detailing the shortage of progress, saying it’s additional proof the challenge isn’t financially viable, a sentiment echoed by state lawmakers at a July legislative session. Even Farmington Mayor Nate Duckett, who has been Enchant’s most outspoken supporter by far, advised lawmakers that “all people would really like us” to drop the challenge, earlier than reaffirming his backing. “Yeah, we wish to see a few of these milestones hit and the dates that had been set initially, however this can be a large, bushy, audacious aim,” he advised lawmakers.

Crane, acknowledging the missed deadlines, now says Enchant will function San Juan as a legacy plant, which means it’s going to proceed to emit carbon dioxide and different pollution unhindered, till it may possibly finance and assemble the carbon seize “island” and different infrastructure. That course of is anticipated to take three years, on the very least — the smaller Petra Nova retrofit required six years to assemble. However even this, Eisenfeld reiterated, would require acquiring a brand new contract for coal from Westmoreland, the proprietor of the feeder mine; entry to transmission and substations; and water rights. 

“The neighborhood is being bought that that may be a go. But it surely’s just about unimaginable to do it on time, if in any respect. It’s slicing us off from the truth verify we want.” 

Mike Eisenfeld

A stickier sticking level could be the Energy Transition Act, which instructs state environmental regulators to undertake requirements of efficiency that restrict coal plant carbon dioxide emissions to not more than 845 kilos per megawatt-hour starting in January 2023. With out carbon seize, the plant emits about 2,000 kilos per MWh, according to a Department of Energy study. Crane mentioned the corporate is “within the course of” of assembly the stipulations Eisenfeld famous, and is “working diligently to acquire … regulatory readability from the New Mexico Surroundings Division” relating to the emissions cap. 

And so they’ll should promote the ability. PNM couldn’t purchase it even when it needed to, thanks to a different provision within the Energy Transition Act prohibiting it from buying electrical energy that emits greater than 400 kilos of CO2 per MWh. The municipal utility of Logan, Utah, is considering purchasing a small amount of power from Enchant, however Logan environmentalists are pushing again in opposition to taking up any further coal-generated electrical energy, with or with out carbon seize — a hurdle Enchant is prone to face wherever it tries to hawk energy. 

As an alternative of scaling again their ambitions, nonetheless, Enchant’s principals proceed to broaden them. In a 2022 Energy Division submitting, it mentioned its technique was to “give attention to large-scale decarbonization tasks initially within the Midwest and Western United States,” and Crane confirmed that “different carbon seize tasks are being targeted on,” although she declined to supply specifics. Proposals to supply blue hydrogen utilizing pure gasoline as feedstock would wish carbon seize and a spot to retailer it. 

Enchant introduced in March that Navajo Transitional Energy Firm, which is owned by the tribe, had invested within the firm — seemingly an enormous increase for its efforts. Neither Enchant nor NTEC would disclose the quantity of the funding, nonetheless. 

If Enchant can’t meet these deadlines, and the ability plant and mine shut for good later this yr, then all the planning, advertising and cash that has gone into the trouble thus far may have been “a expensive distraction from efforts that might truly assist employees and communities within the 4 Corners,” mentioned Camilla Feibelman, Rio Grande Chapter Director for the Sierra Membership.

Whereas native officers have continued to pursue non-fossil gas financial improvement, their give attention to Enchant, in response to Feibelman and Eisenfeld, has created false hope that the coal jobs and tax income gained’t go away, leaving them unprepared once they do. It has additionally diverted sources within the type of Farmington workers time and authorized prices — the town agreed to pay as much as $4 million of Enchant’s authorized tab, to be reimbursed “when the CO2 seize gear achieves business operation.”

“The neighborhood is being bought that that may be a go,” Eisenfeld mentioned. “But it surely’s just about unimaginable to do it on time, if in any respect. It’s slicing us off from the truth verify we want.”

In the meantime, coal would proceed to be mined and burned — and greenhouse gases emitted — at present charges till the carbon seize gear is constructed. And even when, or if, it will definitely does reduce carbon emissions by 90% as deliberate, it’s going to proceed to have environmental and human well being impacts disproportionately borne by close by low-income and predominantly Navajo communities. 

Assuming that Enchant continues to function the plant at present ranges, which it should do to generate and seize satisfactory volumes of carbon, the plant will emit mercury, sulfur dioxide and other air pollutants at roughly the identical fee because it does now. It should proceed to suck 5.8 billion gallons of water per year out of the dwindling San Juan River for cooling, steam era and different makes use of, and can in all probability want extra to run the carbon seize gear. It should proceed to kick out tens of millions of tons of coal combustion waste — ash, clinker, slag and different strong residues — to be disposed of within the mine, thus probably exacerbating long-standing groundwater contamination within the space. And, assuming the San Juan Mine continues to function beneath the present regime, it’s going to additionally proceed to emit at the very least 10,000 metric tons of methane per year, a greenhouse gasoline way more potent than carbon dioxide.

That’s along with considerations surrounding the piping and storage of carbon dioxide, mentioned Norman Norvelle, who labored as a chemist for El Paso Pure Gasoline. When water will get into the pipe it may possibly mix with carbon dioxide to kind carbonic acid, which may corrode the road, inflicting it to rupture and permitting the carbon dioxide to flee. El Paso, Norvelle mentioned, “had traces rupturing in all places” after it began piping coalbed methane — which has extra water and carbon dioxide than different pure gasoline — across the area. According to the Pipeline Safety Trust, carbon dioxide in excessive concentrations is an asphyxiant that may journey lengthy distances at deadly concentrations. 

“Enchant’s proposed CCUS [carbon capture, utilization and storage] challenge for SJGS [San Juan Generating Station] is in essence a far-fetched quest for a backed, tax credit-based carbon dioxide manufacturing facility, blind to the prices of coal generated electrical energy, environmental liabilities, and historic legacies of the positioning,” mentioned Eisenfeld, in testimony to state regulators in 2020. 

“Enchant’s plan isn’t reasonable and definitely gained’t assist the area,” mentioned Robyn Jackson, interim govt director of Diné CARE. “We have now to consider another type of financial improvement that isn’t primarily based on useful resource extraction that sacrifices our land and folks.”

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