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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 Randazzo had filed the case with the Ohio Supreme Court, and had withdrawn from the case six months before when Gov.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Randazzo as PUCO chairman subsequently issued rulings that benefitted FirstEnergy, including one in November 2019 that rescinded a requirement that FirstEnergy undergo a comprehensive review of its electricity rates in 2024.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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"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
"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
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
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
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
Cooling tower at the Davis-Besse nuclear plant. Photo via Wikimedia Commons.
COLUMBUS, Ohio—"Three ex-commissioners spanning eras and political affiliations appealed to Gov. Mike DeWine on Monday to support bold steps to protect the integrity of the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio after a former chairman hand-picked by DeWine resigned amid a $60 million federal bribery scandal.
The letter from Ashley Brown, J. Michael Biddison and Todd Snitchler — a Democrat, independent and Republican, respectively — came the same day candidates to be ex-Chairman Sam Randazzo’s successor were being interviewed. The selections of the PUCO Nominating Council were expected to be sent to DeWine later Monday."
—The Toledo Blade via The Associated Press
"Last month, Public Utilities Commission of Ohio (PUCO) chairman Sam Randazzo resigned from his position as Ohio's chief utility regulator following an FBI search of his home and disclosure that FirstEnergy paid $4 million to end a contract with a consulting company that in a U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission filing fit the description of one linked to Randazzo.
This is why Gov. Mike DeWine should act immediately to nominate a new utility commissioner who will lead with integrity and transparency and represent all Ohio energy consumers fairly. Furthermore, the new chair should ideally have no current or past connections to the utilities the commission regulates. Ohio consumers, already strapped by a difficult economy, need someone who can restore the public's confidence and trust in the PUCO, and put the state back on track to an affordable, equitable, clean energy future."
--Ellen Zuckerman, Guest Blogger for Crain's Cleveland Business
"DeWine said he understands public concern over appointing PUCO commissioners who might be seen as being too close to the entities they’re supposed to regulate. DeWine’s decision in January 2019 to hire Randazzo, a lawyer who represented large industrial electricity users, drew criticism from others in Ohio’s energy scene because of Randazzo’s past work for FirstEnergy.
'We’re starting to think about who to appoint, and who to name as chairman, and we’re starting to go through that process,' he said. 'I think you want someone who has some knowledge in that area. Sometimes the challenge is the people who have the best knowledge have been an advocate.'
DeWine spoke about the PUCO hiring process on Wednesday during an interview with reporters and editors from cleveland.com and The Plain Dealer. He also addressed the general prospects of House Bill 6, which state lawmakers are considering whether to repeal, given the law’s ties to the federal corruption probe.
The governor reiterated his belief that HB6 should be repealed. But he said House Bill 798, a bill lawmakers have presented as an alternative to a repeal, seems to be better than nothing."
-- Andrew J. Tobias, Cleveland.com
COLUMBUS — "In mid-November, FBI agents searched Randazzo’s home in Columbus. The utility, FirstEnergy Corp., revealed several days later in a quarterly report that it was investigating a payment of about $4 million that top executives made to the consulting firm of an Ohio government official meeting Randazzo’s description.
DeWine said this week that Randazzo did not disclose, and the governor did not know of, the FirstEnergy consulting payment until the company reported it to the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. FirstEnergy’s quarterly report said it had not determined if the funds 'were for the purposes represented within the consulting agreement.'
The first-term governor’s latest comments are largely in line with his initial reaction to FBI interest in Randazzo. A day after federal agents searched Randazzo’s home Nov. 16, DeWine told reporters: 'I hired him. I think he’s a good person. If there’s evidence to the contrary, we’ll act accordingly.'"
— Mark Gillipsie and Julie Carr Smyth, AP News