Community continues fight to keep Davis-Besse open

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OAK HARBOR, Ohio (WTVG) - The Davis-Besse Nuclear Power Plant has been a fixture along the shores of Lake Erie for decades. It is operated by FirstEnergy Nuclear Operating Company, a subsidiary of FirstEnergy. However, FirstEnergy is getting out of the energy generation industry.

That means Ohio's two nuclear power plants, Davis-Besse and the Perry Nuclear Power Plant near Cleveland, could be shut down. It's a move that has a lot of people in Ottawa County concerned.

Davis-Besse has powered homes and businesses around the region for about 40 years. According to FirstEnergy, the plant generates 40 percent of the power used in northwest Ohio. The plant also powers the local economy and pumps millions into the local school district annually. There are a lot of people working to make sure that doesn't change.

One of the people on the front lines of the fight to keep Davis-Besse on-line is Jamie Beier Grant, the Director of the Ottawa County Improvement Corporation, "I can't say I was surprised by the news because the company has been talking about the potential of bankruptcy for its nuclear operation since November 2016."

The potential closure is caused in part by competition from fracking and historically low natural gas prices. Right now the 700 workers at Ottawa county's largest employer are in limbo, "You're looking at upwards of $50-$60 million annually just in payroll from the plant."

Jamie says the loss of Davis-Besse would have a far reaching economic impact, "It doesn't just impact the plant and the employees. It would hurt small businesses, the housing market and school districts "

The Benton-Carroll-Salem School District is already taking a hit even while the plant is still running. Treasurer Cajon Keegan says the state department of taxation allowed FirstEnergy to devalue its assets based on profits, "What that means to us is a $4.6 Million hit or 25% of our revenue gone overnight."

Even with those cuts, Davis-Besse still pumps about $3 million into the district, but that gap has to be filled, "We will most likely have a levy on the ballot in May. The school board meets next week to make a final decision, but a levy for new operational monies will likely be on the ballot."

So what's the timetable for a decision about Davis-Besse? There is no final decision at this point State Representative Steven Arndt says FirstEnergy could file to shut down at any time, but he says the company has a contract with suppliers to keep operating for now, "As far as the closure goes, they have a contractual obligation with the grid operator for the next 24 months."

Even if FirstEnergy gets out of the business, State Representative Steven Arndt thinks there are potential buyers who could keep the plant going, "I believe those plants could be purchased and operated profitability."

Jamie agrees, "At this point in time, everything is on the table. We're fighting to make sure it all stays on the table."

FirstEnergy has previously announced its intention to get out of the generation industry. A spokesperson tells us in part "The review and decisions will be completed by mid-year, this year. No final determination has yet been made."