Ads Opposing H.B. 6 Referendum Accused of Lying To and Misleading the Public

by Josh Colletta
The Davis-Besse Nuclear Power Station in Oak Harbor, Ohio; one of two nuclear power plants that would be subsidized by a surcharge added to the electric bills of private energy utility customers if H.B. 6 stands as passed in the Ohio legislature. (Nuclear Regulatory Commission photo)

The question of whether or not Ohio taxpayers should be subsidizing the state’s nuclear power industry is divisive enough, but apart from the core issue — or perhaps directly connected to it — local residents and state officials alike are calling foul on ads being run by the campaign opposing a referendum on the issue.

According to the Bryan Times, the industry group Ohioans for Energy Security has mounted a — so far — $20 Million advertising campaign that hopes to prevent the referendum from reaching the November 5th ballot.

If that referendum does reach the ballot, voters will choose whether to uphold or veto recently-passed state legislation that adds surcharges to some Ohioans’ electric bills, subsidizing FirstEnergy Solutions’ Davis-Besse and Perry nuclear power plants to the tune of $150 Million per year.

Among other things, the ads claim that the referendum is backed by the Chinese government, “quietly invading our electric grid” and “meddling with our elections.”

Ohioans for Energy Security spokesperson Carlo LoParo tole the Times that the entire referendum effort “is a play for market share,” “funded by oil and natural gas companies that want to monopolize the energy market, and those entities are heavily subsidized by international companies and Chinese-owned banks.”

LoParo says that the referendum, if passed, would cost Ohio 4,000 energy jobs and have a $500 Million negative impact on the state’s economy. He would not comment on the source of the group’s advertising funding, but stated that the plants in question account for 90% of the state’s clean energy and 15% of Ohio’s energy resources overall.

“So Obviously False”

But local radio personality and former Bryan Municipal Utilities communications superintendent Jim Funderberg channeled his inner Paddy Chayefsky, saying he’s mad as heck, and he’s not gonna take it anymore. He told the Times he began to wonder how “something so obviously false” could be presented to the public.

After doing his own research into the matter, he says he’s found no connection between the referendum and the Chinese.

“It claims that if you sign, (petition circulators) will take your info and give it to the Chinese, and that’s absolutely false,” he says.

Funderberg said he would be circulating the pro-referendum petition up until today’s deadline.

Yost Gets Dragged Into It

The office of Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost was forced to issue a statement Friday, saying that comments from his September 30th press conference are being used in an H.B. 6 referendum commercial without his knowledge or consent. According to the statement, “The attorney general has deliberately not taken a position on the merits of the law — during the legislative debate or following its passage — as he anticipated it would be litigated.”

Possible Intimidation

Spokesperson Gene Pierce of Ohioans Against Corporate Bailouts says he’s been hearing accusations against the other group, claiming that Ohioans for Energy Security is attempting to pay petitioners to turn over the signatures that they’ve gathered. LoParo denies those allegations. However, Attorney General Yost says his office is reviewing 27 complaints that have been received from both sides of the effort as of Friday. No word on whether any of those complaints substantiate Pierce’s claims.

Yost had a strong message for anyone engaging in that type of behavior: “Intimidation and harassment on either side will not be tolerated. Knock it off.”

He’s urging signature gatherers to report any harassment or intimidation to his office by calling (800) 282-0515.

Does It Really Affect Us?

One point that Funderberg and local utility officials note is that municipal utilities and regional energy cooperatives are exempted in the law. Bryan Municipal Utilities Director of Utilities Kevin Maynard says only about 6% of Ohio as a whole is served by municipal power companies, but the majority of Williams County — including the various municipalities — are covered by exempted public or co-op utilities.

Those who would be paying the surcharge are customers of private utility companies like FirstEnergy, Dayton Power & Light, A.E.P. Ohio, and Duke Energy Ohio.