FirstEnergy Sought a Bailout. Ohio Regulators are Simply Selling Out.

dv067014Remember when we commended the Public Utility Commission of Ohio (PUCO) staff for looking out for Ohioans’ best interests and taking a reasonable stance against FirstEnergy’s $3-billion bailout request?

We take it all back.

It looks like the staff has taken a big gulp of FirstEnergy’s flip-flopping Kool-Aid.

The Akron-based utility giant has been trying to convince the PUCO to prop up its uneconomic power plants for the next 15 years, essentially saddling Ohioans with the cost of FirstEnergy’s poor investments. The PUCO is comprised of the staff – policy and regulatory experts – and the Commission itself, five Commissioners appointed by the Governor who ultimately will make the decision on whether to approve the bailout. Initially, the PUCO staff appeared to see right through FirstEnergy’s cheap trick and recommended the Commission reject the deal.

But last week – despite the previous objection to the subsidy plea – the PUCO staff embraced a backroom deal with FirstEnergy that gives the company even more than it wanted, presenting the utility with an incredible gift just in time for the holidays. This is a disappointing and shocking move that represents a reversal on Ohio’s decade-long commitment to competition in electricity markets.

Although the proposed settlement is laced with nice terms about it being good for customers, clean energy, and reliability, the actual provisions are laughable. For example, the utility’s so-called commitment to renewable energy would take effect only “if state or federal action has not fostered the development of new renewable energy resources.” The vague and unenforceable provision means FirstEnergy can get credit for trying to clean up its act without actually having to do anything.

Furthering the insult to Ohioans, the PUCO staff’s new deal offers giveaways beyond even what the greedy utility originally requested. For instance, the regulators offered to shift electricity rates to fixed charges, which ensure the utility receives more revenue – even if people are using less energy through efficiency or generating their own power.

And in Orwellian language, FirstEnergy claims the settlement will help customers obtain “more predictable prices for an extended period.” In reality, the only predictability is the utility’s extended profits.

The backroom deal can be reversed, but it will take a lot of outrage from Ohio businesses and citizens – and courage on behalf of the Commission. Dynegy and other power companies have threatened to file lawsuits against these subsidies and consumer advocates are likely to protest vehemently. The state’s major newspapers already complained about the bailout, and Friday’s backroom deal may accelerate their criticisms. But it will be up to the Commissioners to recognize there is no saving grace to the new settlement.

By rewarding power companies for bad business decisions, the PUCO is emboldening monopolies and stifling innovation. Even worse, if the new settlement is approved, it will send a signal nationwide to other utilities stuck in the past that backroom deals and empty promises can make your troubles disappear.

FirstEnergy’s settlement is a clear win for greedy utilities, an even bigger loss for Ohioans’ health and wallets, and a complete about-face from the PUCO staff. It’s a backward move Ohio cannot afford and should not tolerate.

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2 Comments

  1. Posted December 3, 2015 at 1:33 am | Permalink

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    • Erica Fick
      Posted December 3, 2015 at 2:57 pm | Permalink

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