H. Wasserman: How Swing State Ohio Got Nuked
How Swing State Ohio Got Nuked
Ohio is poised to do its thing as the ultimate swing state. On March 4 it may, along with Texas, choose the Democratic presidential nominee.
Tragically, the candidates will campaign in a state whose economic future has been nuked.
Once a great industrial heartland, Ohio's rust belt status has been solidified by billions in excess electric rates driven by four nuclear reactors, and by the state government's inability to make way for a green-powered future.
On Friday, February 22, a powerful group of international steel investors announced they were pulling Ohio out of the running for a new high-tech production plant. Some 500 jobs will now go elsewhere. The investors blamed unstable power prices. "If you had to rank from clarity on the utility situation, Ohio would not rank very high," said one.
The state suffers some of the nation's highest and most unpredictable electric costs for four simple reasons: the Davis-Besse, Perry, Zimmer and Beaver Valley 2 nuclear plants.
Davis-Besse, near Toledo, is world-famous for a leak of boric acid that ate through a six-inch stainless steel reactor pressure vessel, bringing northern Ohio to the brink of a Chernobyl-scale catastrophe. Perry, east of Cleveland, suffered billions in construction cost over-runs, and is the only US nuke to have been damaged by an earthquake. Zimmer, on the Ohio River, was allegedly more than 95% complete when massive design and construction flaws forced its hugely expensive 1980s conversion to coal. Beaver Valley 2, near Pittsburgh, has run up even more in overages.
To recoup their radioactive losses, Ohio utilities rammed a 1999 "deregulation" bill through the legislature that has thus far cost ratepayers at least $10 billion, and counting. The vast bulk of the money has gone to repay "stranded costs," corporate code for sunk debt reactor owners don't want to eat. Had that money gone to increased efficiency and renewable technologies, Ohio's economy would be on a very different footing.
The bill was largely guided by the Akron-based FirstEnergy, whose Anthony Alexander has been a major Bush-Cheney donor. FirstEnergy makes very large campaign donations, mostly to Republican legislators in Ohio and nationwide. Forbes Magazine estimated Alexander's 2005 salary at more than $6 million.
As part of the dereg scam, the utilities promised an "open market" for electricity once the nukes were paid off. But instead of competition, Ohio is getting unregulated monopolies that are neither clean nor reliable. It was FirstEnergy's shaky grid that helped black out 50 million people in the northeastern US and Canada in 2003. Small wonder investors are skittish.
A much-touted energy bill passed by the state Senate in October mandates that Ohio utilities generate 25% of their electricity with "advanced energy" by 2020.
About two dozen other states have similar provisions. But Ohio's has become a national joke by including "clean coal" and nuke power in the mix. The Senate bill says half of that quota---12.5%--- must come from renewables such as wind, solar and bio- fuels. But the other 12.5% can come from still more nuke and fossil fuels.
Because of this and disputes over regulation, the bill has languished in the Ohio House. Republican Speaker Jon Husted is reportedly considering removing the coal/nuke concession. But Democratic Governor Ted Strickland has long-standing ties to the coal and uranium enrichment industries, which are deeply rooted in his native southern Ohio.
In the meantime, electric prices and green energy are in deep in limbo, and have dragged down any hope of an economic revival. Except for municipal utilities like Cleveland and Bowling Green, northern Ohio endures some of the nation's highest electric rates.
The region does not lack green visionaries---or resources. Bowling Green owns four extremely successful wind turbines, and may build more. The Cleveland Foundation and others are pushing hard for a renewable energy infrastructure along the lakefront to manufacture wind turbines, solar panels and fuel cells. The Museum of Science hosts the only utility-scale windmill in a US downtown.
The Great Lakes region boasts some of the world's most powerful wind resources. But a sustainable green harvest must somehow blow by Ohio's continued corporate commitment to nuke power.
The Senators campaigning here for the presidency had best look closely at the $18.5 billion in federal loan guarantees for new reactor construction that were written into the Congressional Appropriations Bill passed in 2007. They might also do something about the Lieberman-Warner Global Warming Bill, soon to be debated on the Senate floor, which may contain significant handouts to build still more atomic reactors.
Above all, as the campaign rolls through swing state Ohio, those who would be president should make note of what a mess nuke power has made of this state's economy.