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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 »

Also posted in Utility Business Models / Comments are closed

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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Posted in FirstEnergy / Comments are closed

Federal Regulators Should (Again) Block FirstEnergy’s Sneaky Attempts to Evade Oversight

FirstEnergyChaseAkronOhio wikipedia croppedIt’s not usually a good idea to dis federal regulators. FirstEnergy doesn’t seem to care.

Almost two months ago, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) ruled against the Ohio-based utility giant’s request to bail out its uneconomic power plants. FirstEnergy then tweaked its proposal to obtain the same result but, according to its CEO, “without the need for…FERC approval.”

To “FERC-proof” its bailout scheme, FirstEnergy now tries to mockingly call its subsidy a “surcharge” rather than a “power purchase agreement (PPA).” Put another way, by simply changing the wording of the original bailout, the utility’s sleight of hand aims to skirt federal oversight.

Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) is joining the Electric Power Supply Association (EPSA) and others in asking FERC to overturn this end-run attempt – something we’re calling FirstEnergy’s “Virtual PPA.” It’s virtually the same as the original rotten deal, and it’s just as bad for customers, clean air, and markets.  Read More »

Also posted in Ohio / Comments are closed

Rubber-Stamp Regulators: Ohio Gives FirstEnergy Another Go-Ahead

approved-pixabayAt least in theory, government officials are supposed to monitor electric utilities and ensure they do not abuse their monopoly power. For more than a century, these independent regulators have protected customers from unfair, above-market prices and provided a check on giant corporations.

That social contract is being tested in Ohio.

In an unprecedented move, the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio (PUCO) today allowed FirstEnergy to seek a new power plant bailout – a full day before opponents were to offer their objections. So, without listening to the arguments against the deal, the PUCO rubberstamped the utility’s request for a rehearing.

Unfortunately, this is not the PUCO’s first rubber-stamping. FirstEnergy’s original proposal would have forced customers to pay $4 billion to subsidize the utility’s old and dirty power plants, which could no longer compete in the market. That proposal was almost laughable since the power plants were not needed, and certainly not at such a high price – other companies proposed to offer the same amount of electricity at significantly lower prices. Read More »

Also posted in Ohio / Read 3 Responses

A Bailout by Any Other Name: FirstEnergy Still Trying to Stick It to Ohio Customers

handshake_iStock_000000409076_L3You have to give some credit to FirstEnergy. It does hire creative lawyers.

After the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) effectively killed the utility giant’s $4-billion bailout request to keep its uneconomic power plants online, those expensive attorneys figured they could redefine a few words and restore the subsidies. In an attempt to thwart FERC’s decision, the utility is asking the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio (PUCO) to consider “modifications” to its bailout plan. However, these changes will still result in increased customer bills at the rate of $4 billion.

For almost two years, FirstEnergy argued it needed to prop up its uneconomic generators with “power purchase agreements” (PPA) between the utility and its affiliate companies. After federal regulators declared such transactions were illegal because they distorted competitive markets, FirstEnergy lawyers are now saying, “Just kidding!” Instead of using the term “PPAs,” the utility now prefers “surcharges,” skirting FERC’s ruling and hoping it won’t notice there’s been no real change. Read More »

Also posted in Ohio, Utility Business Models / Comments are closed

Ohio Failed to Protect Customers and Markets – So Federal Regulators Came to the Rescue

columbus-898928_1280The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) recently rejected Ohio-based utilities FirstEnergy and AEP’s bailout deals, which the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio (PUCO) recently approved. FERC, which is responsible for ensuring fair wholesale electricity prices, recognized that these backroom bailouts were “abusive,” taking advantage of “captive” customers and harming the competitive market. Fortunately, FERC’s rulings protect customers and markets – which the PUCO utterly failed to do in approving these deals.

FirstEnergy and AEP wanted these bailouts to protect their old coal and nuclear plants, which are losing money because they cost more to operate than the money received from power sales. The companies considered shutting down the plants, but they concocted the backroom bailout deals in a last-ditch attempt to keep them open and money rolling in. Read More »

Also posted in Ohio, Utility Business Models / Read 6 Responses