Groups ask Ohio utilities commission to investigate ex-chairman

He resigned soon after the FBI searched his Columbus townhome and FirstEnergy revealed that former top executives had paid a utility regulator matching his description

COLUMBUS -- "Environmental advocacy groups have asked the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio to expand an investigation into an alleged bribery scandal to include an examination of the panel’s former chairman.

The Environmental Law & Policy Center and Ohio Environmental Council on Wednesday submitted a filing to the utilities commission asking to investigate whether FirstEnergy Corp., a utility under scrutiny on multiple fronts, tried to influence former chairperson Sam Randazzo."

-- Mark Gillispie and Julie Carr Smyth, Associated Press

link to article


Editorial: Gov. DeWine, Ohioans need an advocate on PUCO

COLUMBUS -- "We sympathize with those consumer advocates who are unhappy that DeWine on Wednesday rejected all four candidates proposed for a PUCO opening by the agency's Nominating Council. The Ohio Consumers’ Counsel, the left-leaning policy group ProgressOhio, and the Ohio Consumer Power Alliance all said that two of the candidates on the rejected list would have been good choices.

Angela Amos is a policy adviser at the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and Gregory Poulos is executive director of Consumer Advocates of the PJM States, a nonprofit group. “Why would Gov. DeWine turn away professionals with extensive utility market expertise who could have brought a fresh start and much-needed perspective to a PUCO that is currently in the shadows of scandal?” demanded Ohio Consumers Power Alliance Director Rachel Belz.

...That’s another reason for DeWine to go out of his way to make a consumer-friendly appointment: The PUCO’s recent history has been one of favoring utilities over consumers. Lawmakers and other public officeholders are supported by FirstEnergy and other utility campaign with contributions large enough to raise questions about the influence wielded by those donors."

-- editorial, The Columbus Dispatch


Ohio Consumers Power Alliance responds to Governor's rejection of PUCO nominees

Today Governor Mike DeWine rejected all four candidates being considered to replace former Chairman Sam Randazzo on the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio. As a result, the PUCO nominating council will send four new names for the Governor’s consideration.

While there were names on the original list of four who had prior and present financial ties to Ohio’s regulated utilities, there were also qualified individuals on the list for consideration. Why would Governor DeWine turn away professionals with extensive utility market experience and consumer advocacy expertise who could have brought a fresh start and much-needed perspective to a PUCO that is currently in the shadows of scandal?

Unless Governor DeWine is willing to provide us with his reasons for rejecting these candidates, it begs the question as to who exactly is steering the ship in Ohio—Governor DeWine or the utilities? Is this yet another example of regulated utilities flexing their muscle in Ohio and hand-picking their own regulators?

The new PUCO Commissioner should be dedicated to increasing equity, fairness, and access to services at the community level at a time when corruption has been winning the day in Ohio. Ohioans are demanding a commissioner:

•   With a history of integrity without the risk of even the appearance of impropriety

•    With a history of working within the community and embracing justice

•    With a plan to demand transparency from regulated utilities

•   With an understanding of energy trends and clean energy development opportunities

•    With no current or previous connections to regulated utilities

•    With no background of lobbying for or having financial ties to utility companies

Ohioans deserve better than what we got with Sam Randazzo. We deserve a PUCO Chair who is ready to put the consumer first, and a Governor who is ready to demonstrate his leadership with this important choice. Now is the time for a fresh start, and we will be watching.

- Rachael Belz, Director, Ohio Consumers Power Alliance


Webinar: Moving Forward on Energy Issues in 2021

Join us for an online discussion: What’s next for HB6? Will the tainted law be repealed, and why is Ohio’s energy policy so riddled with corruption? What’s next for sustainable, equitable energy efforts beyond HB6? Get the inside scoop and ideas for action from two leading experts.
  • Location: Zoom webinar
  • Date: Thursday, January 21, 2021
  • Time: 3:00 p.m. EST

Please register in advance. You will receive follow up information on accessing the webinar.

We hope to see you then, and please spread the word!


Former top Ohio utility regulator was involved with writing tainted nuclear bill, emails show

Perry Nuclear Power Plant Marks 30 Years of Safe and Reliable Operation by FirstEnergy Corp. is licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0

COLUMBUS -- "While serving as Ohio’s top utilities regulator, former Public Utilities Commission of Ohio Chairman Sam Randazzo worked to amend a controversial nuclear bailout bill to hurt renewable energy projects while helping a former client that had just lost a major court case, recently released emails show.

Records released by the Ohio House last month show Randazzo in emails to House staff suggested wording revisions to an early version of House Bill 6, which now is at the center of a federal corruption probe, along with other minor later changes to the bill language.

But they also show Randazzo helped develop new language for the bill to make it harder for wind energy projects to get exceptions to 'setback' rules requiring a certain amount of distance between windmills and adjoining properties. The language, drafted as an amendment that didn’t make it into the final bill, would have benefitted Randazzo’s former client, a group of Huron County property owners who were fighting state approval for a wind farm. Randazzo had filed the case with the Ohio Supreme Court, and had withdrawn from the case six months before when Gov. Mike DeWine hired him as Ohio’s top utility regulator.

Renewable energy advocates, who long have criticized Randazzo, say his involvement with House Bill 6 was inappropriate, given his role approving energy projects and setting utility rates. They’ve also questioned his impartiality in light of FirstEnergy’s disclosure that Akron power company paid $4 million to someone matching Randazzo’s description shortly before DeWine hired him. Randazzo as PUCO chairman subsequently issued rulings that benefitted FirstEnergy, including one in November 2019 that rescinded a requirement that FirstEnergy undergo a comprehensive review of its electricity rates in 2024. The company was a driving force behind House Bill 6, which otherwise bailed out two Ohio nuclear plants owned by a former FirstEnergy subsidiary."

-- Andrew J. Tobias, cleveland.com

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Investigation of $460M in FirstEnergy charges back on, but why was it stopped in the first place?

"The Randazzo-led utility commission’s timing in stopping the audit might seem strange. It came just after the Ohio Supreme Court ruled in January 2020 that the charge FirstEnergy had been collecting was unlawful — seemingly a time when a regulator would want to know more about what happened with the funds.

A big reason why the court struck down the distribution-modernization charge: Despite allowing FirstEnergy to collect almost a half-billion extra dollars from ratepayers, the PUCO didn’t implement effective rules to ensure that FirstEnergy used the money to update the utility grid.

'Utility companies can be expected to respond to financial motivations, but not if the commission awards them money up front with no meaningful conditions attached,' the decision said. 'The PUCO staff’s wishful thinking cannot take the place of real requirements, restrictions, or conditions imposed by the commission for the use of (distribution-modernization) funds.'

Not only did the PUCO call off the audit just as the charge was declared illegal, it did so as the auditors were making some interesting findings. For example, it found that instead of using all the funds to improve its Ohio distribution system, FirstEnergy was placing some in a 'Regulated Utility Money Pool,' from which out-of-state utilities could borrow."

- Marty Schladen, Ohio Capital Journal

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What to do about HB 6 and FirstEnergy? The ball is in Gov. DeWine's court.

cleveland’s Logo

 

"Thanks to the House Bill 6 scandal, Ohioans know that FirstEnergy Corp.’s political intrigues pervade the Statehouse. Now they’ve learned the Akron utility, using a 'dark money' group, aimed to undercut a competitor, city-owned Cleveland Public Power.

Tax filings and court documents indicate that $200,000 in FirstEnergy money went to Consumers Against Deceptive Fees, which seemingly advocated for Public Power customers by questioning rates, cleveland.com’s John Caniglia reported Thursday. The documents reveal that the 'consumer' group was bankrolled by $200,000 from FirstEnergy and aimed at Public Power."

--Editorial Board, cleveland.com and The Plain Dealer

Read more.


Ohio lawmakers to end session without addressing scandal-drenched House Bill 6

 

COLUMBUS, Ohio—"In the wake of what federal authorities say is the largest bribery scheme in Ohio history, state lawmakers vowed to repeal, or at least reform, the law at the center of the scandal: the House Bill 6 nuclear bailout law.

But after months of hearings and negotiations, state lawmakers will end their legislative session without passing a single measure addressing HB6 in any way, displaying a stunning inability to do anything about a law that has become an embarrassment to the state.

The reason is that legislative Republicans, who dominate both the Ohio House and Senate, are split about what to do with HB6: some want to fully repeal it, some want a partial repeal, and others argue it should be kept in place. Most legislative Democrats, for their part, have insisted on fully repealing HB6 and have generally opposed any reform efforts short of that."

—Jeremy Pelzer, cleveland.com

Read more.

 

 


Outgoing Supreme Court Justice French, 3 others picked as finalists for PUCO job

 

COLUMBUS, Ohio--"Outgoing Ohio Supreme Court Justice Judith French was picked as one of four finalists for a seat on a powerful panel that regulates the state's utilities.

The 12-member nominating council for the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio submitted the name of French and three others — Angela Amos, Anne Vogel and Greg Poulos — to Gov. Mike DeWine to fill the vacancy left by the resignation of PUCO Chairman Sam Randazzo for a term that ends April 10, 2024."

--Mark Williams, The Columbus Dispatch

Link to full article.


FirstEnergy probe needed to restore public trust, 3 ex-regulators say

 

COLUMBUS, Ohio – "Three former utility regulators want an extensive investigation into Akron-based FirstEnergy to restore the public's trust after a federal bribery probe and prominent resignations

Since July, federal investigators have arrested five people, including the former Ohio House leader, in connection with a bribery scheme to pass a $1 billion bailout of two nuclear plants in northern Ohio then-owned by FirstEnergy Solutions. Several FirstEnergy executives, including CEO Chuck Jones, have resigned – though none have been charged.

Top utility regulator, Public Utilities Commission of Ohio chairman Sam Randazzo, also resigned after FirstEnergy disclosed they paid $4 million to end a contract with someone who later became a regulator."

--Jessie Balmert, Cincinnati Enquirer

Link to full article.