FirstEnergy raises more questions about $4M consulting payment to Ohio regulator

DAYTON –– "Facing investigations on multiple fronts, Akron-based FirstEnergy Corp. told financial analysts Thursday that it is taking steps to rehabilitate its reputation and emerge as a stronger, more transparent company.

In filings made Thursday with the Securities and Exchange Commission, FirstEnergy said its internal investigation found transactions — some dating back a decade — that lacked documentation or were improperly accounted for.

Among the flagged transactions is a $4 million payment made in early 2019 to end a consulting agreement with someone who subsequently was appointed as an Ohio utility regulator. The payment was disclosed to the SEC in November."

–– Laura A. Bischoff, Dayton Daily News

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OCPA responds to FirstEnergy’s SEC filing

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

Letter: Shawnee can grow stronger

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

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DeWine sends a shameful signal in rejecting consumer-oriented PUCO nominees

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,

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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,

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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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