Market forces and technology are increasingly making old, dirty power plants uneconomic, which creates an opportunity for clean energy progress and cleaner air. However, outdated rules and entrenched interests can complicate the path to a healthier energy economy, as evidenced by a new settlement in Ohio.
The Public Utilities Commission of Ohio (PUCO) recently approved an American Electric Power (AEP) settlement that contains both promising and discouraging components.
The PUCO decision forces AEP to reconsider its ownership of power-generating plants. Realizing old coal-fired units can no longer compete against newer natural-gas and renewable facilities in deregulated markets, AEP suggests it faces two options, one being to ask Ohio legislators to overturn the state’s deregulation law, allowing AEP to return to the less-risky days of guaranteed profits on any of its power plants.
However, a recent study by Ohio State University and Cleveland State University found that the competition enabled by deregulation allowed Ohio customers, businesses, and industries to save $15 billion on electricity over the past four years and is expected to save the same amount by 2020. If the state were to return to a regulated system, Ohioans could miss out on those billions of savings. Read More
Ohio policymakers are at a crossroads. They can create jobs, grow the economy, cut pollution, and save customers money by rebuilding the state’s renewable and energy efficiency policies, or they can continue to let Ohio fall behind in the clean energy economy.
A little background: In 2014, the Ohio Legislature placed a two-year freeze on the state’s energy efficiency and renewable energy standards as a result of political pressure from Ohio’s largest power company, FirstEnergy, among others. The standards required electric utilities to generate 12.5 percent of electricity sales from renewable sources, as well as reduce energy consumption 22 percent by 2025 through efficiency programs. Since the freeze, Ohio has lost millions of dollars in energy investment and jobs, and lags behind nearly every other state in percentage of renewable energy generated.
Now that the two years are almost up, it’s time for Ohio to decide how to move forward – if at all – on its clean energy standards. Fortunately, according to a new report from Environmental Defense Fund and The Nature Conservancy, there are at least three achievable routes to reinstate the renewable and efficiency standards – each of which would provide substantial economic and health benefits to the state at a value of $3 to $5 billion by 2030. Read More
It’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 FirstEnergy
At 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 FirstEnergy
You 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
The 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