Selected category: FirstEnergy

Ohio electricity battles abound

Crain's Cleveland Business first published this op-ed on July 16, 2017. 

Ohio long has been a bellwether state. Politically, no state during the past 120 years has picked more winners of presidential elections. Ohio also reflects the nation's diverse and evolving set of energy resources. In particular, this past year Ohio became ground zero in the electricity wars. Its utilities are seeking subsidies for uneconomic power plants, setting up a lively federalism debate about when states can encourage specific energy technologies. Meanwhile, Ohio manufacturers and customers are seeking to break up utility monopolies, provoking discussions about the role of competition in electricity markets.
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The more electricity regulators delay, the more customers pay

Remember the old “money booths,” in which game show participants got to grab as many dollars as they could before the timer went off? Well, FirstEnergy’s the lucky contestant; everyday Ohioans are supplying the cash, and the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio (PUCO) is refusing to call time.

The PUCO is still deciding whether to give final approval to the bailout for the Ohio-based utility giant’s old, inefficient coal plants. Refresher: In October, the PUCO gave a tentative $625-million subsidy to reduce FirstEnergy’s debt associated with its bad business decisions.

PUCO procedures require regulators to solicit responses and reconsider its initial decision. Ohio commissioners, however, have allowed FirstEnergy to start collecting without the final approval. The effective start date of the tariff was January 1, 2017 – nearly five months ago. Read More »

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Don’t buy Perry’s reliability ruse. His fake study is pro-coal propaganda.

Energy Secretary Rick Perry’s so-called grid reliability study will be nothing more than thinly-veiled propaganda for the coal industry and a tool to justify expensive government handouts to outdated power plants.

How do we know? The tactic is ripped straight from FirstEnergy’s well-worn subsidy playbook.

The Ohio-based utility has relentlessly sought a massive, customer-funded bailout to prop up its unprofitable power plants. It repeatedly tried using reliability as an excuse for subsidies, while the regional grid operator repeatedly declared there would be plenty of generation to keep the lights on without FirstEnergy’s old power plants.

The reliability justification hasn’t worked for FirstEnergy, and it won’t work for the pro-coal Trump administration. The reality is, a 21st-century energy system won’t be based on old, lumbering coal plants. Instead, modern energy technology means we can build a cleaner, more flexible, and reliable electric grid. Read More »

Also posted in Clean Energy, Ohio, Utility Business Models| Read 1 Response

Who Pays for the Hidden Costs of Coal?

The Public Utilities Commission of Ohio is still deciding whether to approve bailouts for FirstEnergy’s and Dayton Power & Light’s (DP&L) old, inefficient coal plants. The Ohio-based utilities want their customers to shoulder the costs of keeping these unprofitable coal plants running.

Coal plants aren’t cheap to operate. And as natural gas, wind energy, and solar energy have become increasingly affordable in recent years, coal can’t compete anymore. Moreover, subsidizing coal plants is not just a matter of higher electricity bills. We need to take into account the hidden costs of coal, which we all have to pay. Read More »

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Ohio Regulators Deliver “Undoubtedly Unconventional” Decision in FirstEnergy Bailout Case

power-lines-unsplash2In a long-awaited decision, the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio (PUCO) yesterday approved a $600-million electricity rate plan for FirstEnergy.

One read of the decision is, regulators killed the Ohio-based utility giant’s massive bailout and ordered the utility to modernize its grid. If accurate, this would be an incredible victory: Dirty power plants would not be subsidized, FirstEnergy would not be rewarded for its poor business decisions, and the company would invest in measures that increase efficiency and welcome clean-energy resources.

Ah, if the PUCO order were only so clear. On the one hand, it does seem the regulators are giving FirstEnergy $600 million upfront and requiring it to spend those funds on grid-modernization programs the PUCO will approve in the future. Yet, the more realistic read is, Ohio regulators are simply handing FirstEnergy $600 million in hopes the subsidy will allow the utility to improve its balance sheet. Then, FirstEnergy will (hopefully) propose grid-modernization efforts that the PUCO will consider and fund down the line. In other words, the PUCO is providing FirstEnergy a no-strings-attached subsidy.

The decision is unusual and a bit difficult to interpret – even the PUCO chairman admits the approach is “undoubtedly unconventional.” The only certainty is that this issue will not die. Environmental Defense Fund and its allies will continue to press the PUCO and the Ohio Supreme Court to ensure the $600 million goes toward building a cleaner, more modern electric grid. Read More »

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Ohio Regulators Attempt to Keep FirstEnergy Afloat with New Subsidy Proposal

SmokestacksMy head feels whipsawed by the wildly changing proposals to bail out FirstEnergy’s uneconomic and dirty power plants. The latest development in this ongoing saga occurred June 29, when the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio (PUCO) staff recommended a new subsidy solution for the utility behemoth: $131 million per year over three years.

While this proposal is, blessedly, 90 percent less than FirstEnergy’s original $4 billion bailout proposal, it’s still an unnecessary subsidy that Ohio taxpayers should not be forced to shoulder. Hearings on whether the PUCO commissioners should approve the deal begin today.

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