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.

Regulators also agreed the utility could keep its windfall even if the tentative bailout were overturned by the PUCO or the Ohio Supreme Court. So as long as the PUCO puts off the decision, FirstEnergy gets to collect the non-refundable fees. In other words, while the regulators twiddle their thumbs, the utility is raking it in.

How much so? By the end of May, FirstEnergy will have collected a massive $55 million from customers. Meanwhile, opponents like Environmental Defense Fund can’t take the case to the Ohio Supreme Court until an official decision is reached.

The PUCO needs to decide soon. The clock is ticking.

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