The list of things FirstEnergy isn’t good at continues to grow. First it was transparency. Then accuracy. Now it’s time to add consistency to the list.
You’ll recall that Ohio-based utility FirstEnergy is asking the Public Utility Commission of Ohio (PUCO) to grant it a $3-billion bailout in order to keep operating uneconomic power plants. Years earlier, FirstEnergy spoke out in favor of deregulation – and the competition it enabled – and against government support. But the bailout request represents a complete reversal for the utility giant.
De-regulate, no, re-regulate
Back in 2007, FirstEnergy’s CEO regaled about the wonders of deregulation and competition. In testimony before the Ohio legislature, he declared,
Competition drives innovation, a desire to succeed, efforts to improve productivity, and lower prices. This basic reality applies to today’s electricity markets – and it should remain a driving force for our business and industry in the years ahead.”
Maybe he didn’t mean the eight years between his testimony and the company’s current efforts to restrict competition. Read More
Nobody can predict the future. But from markets to sports, so much of our world is focused on speculation. Ohio-based FirstEnergy has a habit of missing market predictions in spectacular fashion, often because the numbers it advances “prove” the political point that would most benefit the utility’s bottom line.
Consider the case of Environmental Protection Agency’s proposal to reduce mercury and particulate emissions from power plants. FirstEnergy wanted to kill the Mercury and Air Toxic Standards (MATS) and argued the recommended rules would cost it some $3 billion to comply. That predicted cost came in the third quarter of 2011, before the EPA standard was finalized. A year later, after the final rule was released, FirstEnergy cut its estimate nearly in half, to $1.7 billion. A year later the number was down to $465 million, and by 2015 the company admitted it needed to spend only $370 million to comply with MATS.
FirstEnergy’s forecasting “prowess” also extends to its bailout request now before the Public Utility Commission of Ohio (PUCO). According to Cathy Kunkel with the Institute for Energy Economics & Financial Analysis (IEEFA), “FirstEnergy needs to show PUCO that wholesale market prices are likely to rise steeply so that ratepayers will benefit from the new contract it seeks.”
At FirstEnergy, too much is never enough.
According to one Wall Street analyst, the Ohio-based utility “benefitted substantially” from recent auctions by PJM, the electric grid manager in the Midwest and Mid-Atlantic. In fact, it appears the company’s bounty for the next two years is $435 million more than it was projected to earn.
This is a direct result of FirstEnergy and other utilities’ successful efforts earlier this year to convince PJM to change how its electricity auctions were structured.
After the Polar Vortex of 2014, when many power plants shut down because they couldn’t obtain fuel over frozen pipelines or highways, the utilities argued PJM should provide higher payments for power plants that could provide reliable electricity in winter months as well as in the summer when air conditioning demands are high. The change, of course, would provide more revenue to coal-fired and nuclear-fired units that tend to run consistently, including FirstEnergy’s old and inefficient power plants.
You might think FirstEnergy would celebrate its success in redesigned power markets. But you would be wrong. Despite the auction windfall, the company maintains it still needs the Public Utility Commission of Ohio (PUCO) to approve a $3 billion bailout from Ohio customers to keep its inefficient, dirty power plants running. Fortunately, it appears the PUCO staff has seen right through this request. Read More
FirstEnergy isn’t the only utility trying to stick Ohioans with the cost of its poor business decisions.
AEP Ohio has also presented a similar proposal to bail out several old, uneconomic coal plants, asking the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio (PUCO) to guarantee the purchase of power produced by its coal plants. The utility tried the same tactic earlier this year and failed, but is now back with an updated proposal. Last week, Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) filed testimony opposing the deal and recommended that AEP Ohio should invest in grid upgrades if the PUCO decides to approve AEP Ohio’s proposal.
Ohio has a competitive retail electric market, meaning customers can buy electricity from many different sellers. But utilities still have a monopoly when it comes to service territories. So if you live in AEP Ohio’s territory, the company will deliver your electricity – even if you purchase it from a different provider. Since AEP Ohio’s bailout proposal applies to its entire service area, essentially the utility wants to force all of those customers to pay for its coal plants, including those who don’t buy their electricity from AEP Ohio. Read More
In a long-awaited hearing which began last week, Ohio’s largest utility is seeking approval for a rate hike of $3 billion. FirstEnegy is asking the Public Utilities Commission (PUCO) to force customers to pay for its old, dirty, uneconomic coal plants and a nearly-expired nuclear plant.
Although there are many reasons to oppose the bailout proposal, one key objection is that FirstEnergy’s sister company – FirstEnergy Solutions – owns these power plants. Rather than undertaking a competitive bid to find the best deal and most affordable prices available, FirstEnergy agreed to buy the power from FirstEnergy Solutions. Imagine if the owner of your company forced you and every employee to buy expensive health insurance from their cousin, even though you could easily get a better price if you shopped around.
If this sounds bad, it gets worse – this isn’t the first time FirstEnergy has tried this tactic. The utility did the same thing in 2013, and the PUCO slammed FirstEnergy for doing so. This is just a case of déjà vu all over again, and FirstEnergy should expect the same result. Read More
They say crises don’t test your character, they reveal it. I believe they do the same thing to your vision of the future. Times are tough for Ohio’s FirstEnergy, and CEO Chuck Jones is signaling where he wants the utility to be in the future: the past.
First, we need to look back to last year, when Jones pushed the Ohio legislature to halt state efficiency and renewable energy standards that helped reduce electricity demand and saved Ohio customers millions of dollars.
This year, Jones’ vision quest is a $3 billion bailout – to be paid for by his customers – that would guarantee the purchase of power generated by FirstEnergy’s older and costlier power plants. In a recent op-ed, Jones argued that the deal would secure Ohioan’s energy independence. Read More