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
"House leadership is signaling a freeze to the bailout, HB798, will be the vehicle used to address the energy laws created through HB6. The energy law allows for new charges of up to $2.35 a month on electric bills for nuclear, coal, and solar subsidies.
Rachael Belz with Ohio Consumers Power Alliance says a freeze on the new charges doesn't truly help the ratepayers.
'It's more like pushing something off that you never intend to get back to,' says Belz.
Talk of an HB6 repeal began after House Speaker Larry Householder was arrested about 5 months ago accused of a bribery scheme that helped him rise to leadership and HB6 become law."
-- Andy Chow, Statehouse News Bureau
COLUMBUS, Ohio -- "Gov. Mike DeWine soon will consider a replacement for the state’s most powerful utility regulator, a man whose share of public attention increased dramatically after the FBI searched his home last month.
Sam Randazzo, a longtime fixture on Ohio’s energy law scene, quit as chairman of the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio the same week as the raid, amid questions over his ties to a federal corruption investigation into a sweeping energy bill – House Bill 6. The feds say their probe uncovered the largest bribery scheme in Ohio history – a scheme in which they say FirstEnergy Corp. money was used to get the nuclear plant bailout bill passed and protect it from being repealed.
Randazzo’s departure also came just after a regulatory filing suggested that he may have received a $4 million payment from FirstEnergy shortly before Gov. Mike DeWine named him as PUCO chair in February 2019.
Those circumstances have brought unusual scrutiny to the typically obscure process of state energy regulations. Critics are sure to question any decision DeWine makes to replace Randazzo, given the ties between FirstEnergy, senior officials in the DeWine administration and a screening committee that nominates PUCO commissioner candidates. Advocates have called for tougher disclosure requirements for PUCO members, as well as for the PUCO to throw out and reconsider decisions Randazzo made as chairman that affected FirstEnergy."
-- Andrew J. Tobias, Cleveland.com
Photo from Getty Images.
"When it comes to billions of ratepayer dollars for bailouts and other add-ons, Ohio utilities are in a no-lose situation.
In the case of the scandal-plagued, billion-dollar bailout of two Northern Ohio nuclear reactors, their owner is poised to keep any money they collect even if the legislature repeals the bailout.
State Rep. Mark Romanchuk, R-Ontario, said that would only continue what already is a disturbing trend in the Buckeye State.
'Do you know that there’s been over a billion dollars — that’s with a ‘B’ for boy — collected from ratepayers over the years that have later been ruled unlawful by the Ohio Supreme Court and that money was never returned to the ratepayers?' he asked."
- Marty Schladen, Ohio Capital Journal
COLUMBUS, Ohio--"The Public Utilities Commission of Ohio has begun the process of replacing its former chairman who resigned earlier this month after his home was searched by the FBI.
The Public Utilities Commission of Ohio Nominating Council announced Monday it is seeking applications for the empty commission spot, vacant since former PUCO Chairman Sam Randazzo resigned on Nov. 20."
--Andrew Tobias, cleveland.com
Sam Randazzo resigns after FBI agents search his home and FirstEnergy reveals $4 million payment to a former consultant-turned-regulator
COLUMBUS -- "Federal prosecutors have made it clear that the utility and its affiliates are believed to be the source of $61 million funneled through a nonprofit group to maintain the alleged criminal conspiracy by Householder and four associates.
In his Friday resignation letter to Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine, the Republican who appointed Randazzo as PUCO chair in 2019, Randazzo wrote that these allegations and 'the accompanying publicity will, right or wrong, fuel suspicions about and controversy over decisions I may render in my current capacity.'
FirstEnergy’s 10-Q filing with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission cited the $4 million payment as evidence that 'certain former members of senior management violated certain FirstEnergy policies and its code of conduct.' FirstEnergy’s board of directors fired CEO Charles Jones and two other senior executives in late October on the same grounds of violating policies and codes of conduct."
--Jeff St. John, Green Tech Media