If the day is fast approaching, the Benton-Carroll-Salem School District is preparing for it. For years, residents of Oak Harbor have assumed that Davis-Besse could be permanently shutdown.
The issue is cost. Nuclear-powered plants are having trouble competing with natural gas, which has grown rapidly in supply recently and has changed the energy landscape in the United States. Natural gas has, according to the Energy Information Administration (EIA), risen from providing 20 percent of the nation's electricity in 2006 to 34 percent in 2016, making that the first year that a resource other than coal supplied the most electricity.
Davis-Besse provides tax revenue that accounts for approximately 40 percent of the B-C-S budget. According to the Ottawa County Auditor's Office, the nuclear facility generated $10.2 million in property and utility tax income in 2015. The plant’s parent, FirstEnergy, is in the process of deciding whether to sell or close it as well as its other nuclear and coal facilities across the country.
"We try to be very optimistic. To my knowledge, with the way school funding works in Ohio, we have not seen a nuclear power plant shut down, nor have we seen a school district reliant on one company for 40 percent of its revenue shut down. We're confident we could lobby the state to help us if (the plant) did shut down," said B-C-S treasurer Cajon Keeton. "We're optimistic that the power plant might change ownership."
B-C-S gets roughly $2,200 per pupil a year in state aid – less than half the state average. According to Keeton, that will drop to $1,500 for the district next year because of the increased valuation the school receives because of the power plant.
"We are an anomaly to the state funding formula," he said." At the end of the day, the Ohio Department of Education funds schools based on capacity and what taxpayers can pay -- the state looks at us and thinks we're a very rich school district. (But) it's not FirstEnergy in our voting booth; it's our farmers, business owners and parents that aren't connected to large corporations that vote. There is a risk that the power plant could devalue its worth next year, and depending on that, we could see a large loss in general operating dollars. The state funding formula is not set up to handle funding fluctuations, like $100 million gains or losses, and that hurts us."
But there is reason to be optimistic, he said.
"We feel better now than we did three months ago. There is a plan that has FirstEnergy looking for subsidies from the state to make it more marketable to sell if they do decide to sell it," said Keeton. "The subsidies will help because it's hard to make money in electric generation due to natural gas."
The subsidies would be part of a program awarding "Zero Emission Credits" to nuclear power plants in Ohio for not producing carbon dioxide. This would help to provide tangible financial value to the plants.
"We've got work to do on our end to assist FirstEnergy to ensure that subsidy goes through. We certainly support that, but we also have work to do to secure a stable funding environment for our school," said Keeton. "We like to consider ourselves on top of it."
For decades, the nuclear power plant has provided the school district with money that's helped it to build facilities while lessening the strain on local residents.
"We were one of the first school districts with a natatorium, and add to that a beautiful auditorium that was basically paid in cash. You hear about countless times where other schools come to play sports and they talk about what beautiful facilities we have," said Keeton. "There are only 10 other school districts in the state of Ohio (out of 612 schools) where the homeowners and farmers pay less.”