Senate Energy and Public Utilities Committee
Chairman Peterson, Vice Chair Schuring, and Ranking Member Williams
Proponent Testimony on Senate Bill 117
Testimony of Rachael Belz
Ohio Consumers Power Alliance
May 12, 2021
Chairman Peterson, Vice Chair Schuring, Ranking Member Williams, and Members of the Energy and Public Utilities Committee, my name is Rachael Belz, and I am the Director of the Ohio Consumers Power Alliance, a project of the Ohio Citizen Action Education Fund dedicated to educating Ohio’s energy consumers around opportunities to diversify Ohio’s energy portfolio and policy actions that could impact consumer choice and spending. Our members fully support Senate Bill 117.
Ohio Consumers Power Alliance was opposed to House Bill 6 when it was being debated in 2019 and strongly supported the efforts to fully repeal the legislation once it was revealed that the bill was at the center of a $61 million bribery scandal. What began as bad public policy soon became bad public policy born of corruption and collusion.
While the Ohio General Assembly has passed legislation to remove the nuclear subsidies and decoupling provisions from House Bill 6, there has still been no full repeal. That means the coal subsidies created for the Ohio Valley Electric Corporation (OVEC) included in House Bill 6 – which have been estimated to be worth $700 million — remain in place, to be funded by Ohio consumers. These dollars are intended to bailout two dirty coal-fired power plants, one of which his even located in Indiana.
In fact, House Bill 6 expanded the bailout of the OVEC coal plants to require FirstEnergy customers to pay for the bailout starting in January 2020. Every dollar collected under these subsidies from FirstEnergy customers is handed over to AEP, Duke, and Dayton Power & Light to further subsidize the bailouts for those companies. FirstEnergy customers bear the brunt of bad utility policy on multiple fronts, but you can change that with your support of Senate Bill 117.
FirstEnergy and other utility giants should not receive any benefit from legislation passed under the shadow of corruption and lies. Dollars collected through an OVEC bailout should never leave the pockets of hardworking Ohioans and should never be used to line the pockets of wealthy executives.
Corruption made HB 6 possible, and we have continuously called on members of the General Assembly to right this wrong and repeal all components of the bill. Repealing the OVEC subsidies included in HB 6 is an important step in restoring faith in our government by standing up for real, everyday Ohio consumers.
I strongly urge you to remove the OVEC subsidies remaining from HB 6 and support the people of Ohio by supporting Senate Bill 117.
COLUMBUS -- "After FBI agents searched his German Village condo in November, attorney Samuel Randazzo began off loading real estate holdings worth hundreds of thousands of dollars.
In February, he transferred ownership of a house in the Columbus suburb of Grandview that he bought in 2013 for $346,000 to Samuel Brewster Randazzo for no money. In March, he sold a house in nearby Marble Cliff for $615,950, less than five months after buying it for $600,000.
Randazzo is in contract to sell his 2,836-square-foot waterfront home in Naples for an estimated $3.9 million, according to Redfin.
Randazzo resigned as chairman of the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio in November, following the FBI raid and a disclosure by FirstEnergy Corp. that it paid $4.3 million in January 2019 to an unnamed individual who subsequently was appointed as a state utility regulator.
Randazzo and his consulting firm, Sustainability Alliance of Ohio, continue to own Ohio properties valued at $2.16 million, auditor records show."
-- Laura Bischoff, Columbus Dispatch
Randazzo influence remains within the agency and must be removed
More than four months after the FBI raid on Sam Randazzo’s home and his subsequent resignation from the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio, Governor Mike DeWine has selected former Franklin County Common Pleas Judge Jenifer French as his replacement and new Commission Chair. The Ohio Consumers Power Alliance has spent those months calling on Governor DeWine to appoint someone who could offer Ohio a fresh start, not a rubber stamp for utilities. Someone who had no financial ties to the same utilities they would be charged with regulating. Someone who was ready to put Ohio consumers first.
We are disappointed that Governor DeWine rejected those with consumer advocacy experience earlier in this process, and we call Ms. French to demonstrate a dedication to increasing equity, fairness, and access to services at the community level at a time when corruption has been winning the day in Ohio.
Unfortunately, French is coming to the PUCO with no consumer advocacy experience or energy policy background. This will make the PUCO even more reliant on Scott Elisar, the Commission’s legislative and policy director. Elisar, Randazzo’s former law firm colleague, was appointed by indicted former Speaker Larry Householder to fill a vacancy left by Sam Randazzo on the PUCO nominating council in early 2019. He was subsequently hired by Randazzo to his current leadership position within the PUCO. Sam Randazzo may be gone, but Governor DeWine has stopped short of cleaning house at the PUCO.
Once confirmed, Jenifer French’s first order of business as PUCO Chair should be to remove the final vestige of the Householder and Randazzo era at the agency. We call on her to replace Scott Elisar as legislative and policy director and begin to restore confidence in the state’s regulatory process.
Ohioans deserve better than what we got with Sam Randazzo. We deserve an energy policy that is not clouded by corruption and lies. We offer our congratulations to Ms. French and urge her to bring dignity, transparency, and the consumer perspective back to the PUCO. We urge her to provide a fresh start.
- Rachael Belz, Director, Ohio Consumers Power Alliance
COLUMBUS –– "The Public Utilities Commission of Ohio on Wednesday voted to probe whether FirstEnergy Corp. customers should be given refunds for questionable costs incurred by the utility, including $4 million paid to a company tied to ex-PUCO Chair Sam Randazzo.
... FirstEnergy officials haven’t publicly disclosed specific details about the costs, other than to say they were 'improperly classified,' 'misallocated' to the company’s local affiliates or 'lacked proper supporting documentation.' They said most of the costs occurred in Ohio, some dated back 10 years or more, and that the overall amount is relatively small and 'immaterial' to the company’s finances."
–– Jeremy Peltzer, cleveland.com
LIMA –– "Since 1886, when John D. Rockefeller’s Standard Oil Company began distilling petroleum there, fossil fuels have played a key role in Lima, Ohio’s economy.
Today, the city of 37,000 aims to be an active player in the ongoing clean energy transition. Local leaders hope a partnership announced last week will help propel that progress.
'Energy has been part of our history for the last 130 years,' Lima Mayor David Berger said. 'I expect that energy technology will continue to be a part of our community’s future.'"
–– Kathiann M. Kowalski, Energy News Network
COLUMBUS -- Two years ago, Ohio Consumers Power Alliance raised a red flag over Governor Mike DeWine’s consideration of Sam Randazzo for the position of PUCO Chairman. His career-long dedication to fighting renewable energy and efficiency development as a fossil fuel lobbyist and FirstEnergy consultant spoke volumes, yet he was selected and confirmed as the state’s powerful regulatory officer.
Now two years later, FirstEnergy has issued a filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission claiming they believe a once-secret $4 million payment made to Randazzo was not for the purported consultant services contract as previously stated. FirstEnergy either wants Ohioans to believe they are deeply in the dark about millions of dollars in fraudulent payments or they are holding back the truth…yet again.
As investigations continue and additional examples of bribery and racketeering may be uncovered both inside and outside of state government, one thing is clear. Governor DeWine has an opportunity to show Ohioans that powerful utilities no longer run the show in Ohio. He can appoint someone to the PUCO who does not have ties to regulated utilities and is ready to put Ohio consumers first. This is not going to be the end of the story in Ohio, but Governor DeWine has this one chance to rewrite a chapter and demonstrate the leadership Ohioans so desperately want to see. He needs to choose wisely this time.
-- Rachael Belz, Director, Ohio Consumers Power Alliance
LIMA -- "There are some in our community who do not like the idea of utility-scale solar, and I understand we all have differing views on the world around us. But the record must be set straight. For decades, there were “coal communities” where children suffered from asthma and respiratory issues. The coal miners themselves were dying of black lung disease which was solely caused from mining. We have been robbing our future by using non-renewable energy sources, and now that we have a chance to improve our future through a clean source of energy such as the Birch Solar project, and we must take complete advantage of this situation. Even General Motors just announced that all of their cars by 2035 would be electric — ending production of diesel and gasoline-powered engines.
All of the major companies in America are committing to 100% clean energy to reduce their own environmental footprint. Our community can be part of this. Solar has been proven to be emission-free, and do not pose any health dangers. The company in charge of the project, by law, must perform rigorous environmental studies that are done by engineers and experts. Our community can only grow stronger if we look to the future.
-- Erica Extine, Shawnee Township, letter to the editor, Lima News
COLUMBUS -- "Episodes like Randazzo’s crusade against a wind-energy project while he was PUCO chairman demonstrate Ohio’s backward-looking energy policies. The legislature and at times the PUCO have mulishly resisted wind- and solar-energy projects. While the rest of the world moves forward, supporting clean energy, Ohio seems like a livery stable buying more and more horses just as Henry Ford gins up production of the Model T. Any wonder Ohio keeps slipping?
In the many months since the HB 6 criminal charges were unveiled last July, Ohio lawmakers have signally failed to repeal or replace the law. And if the General Assembly also won’t quash such extracurricular PUCO moves as the one Randazzo attempted, then DeWine must name PUCO commissioners who understand that their first responsibility is to the public.
Or, does DeWine not remember that it is the public to whom his fealty lies, either? The governor’s decision to reject two pro-consumer candidates and return to square one on replacing Randazzo at PUCO suggests his loyalties remain misdirected."
-- editorial, cleveland.com
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