Nation's first freshwater windfarm all but approved as Ohio siting board removes 'poison pill'

COLUMBUS -- "The Ohio Power Siting Board reversed itself Thursday and agreed in a unanimous vote to remove language from a construction permit the Board approved in May that would have required the nation's first freshwater wind farm to shut down turbines at night eight months out of the year to protect migrating birds and bats.

Project developers called that provision a "poison pill" that made financing impossible and asked for reconsideration while 32 state lawmakers from northern Ohio publicly pressured the Board to reconsider. A draft version of Thursday's decision — circulated earlier in the week and introduced Thursday — had kept the overnight shutdown language.

Siting Board member Mary Mertz, director of the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, offered an amendment before the vote on the draft proposal could be taken, removing the "poison pill" provisions, but allowing the full Power Siting Board as well as her agency to periodically review avian mortality rates rather than relying only on the Board's staff reviews."

-- John Funk, Utility Dive

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Ohio regulators decline to force FirstEnergy to hire an independent auditor

COLUMBUS -- "The PUCO’s order is 'a baby step towards the direction of what the Consumers’ Counsel is suggesting,' but it’s certainly not the same, said former PUCO member Ashley Brown, who now heads the Harvard Electricity Policy Group. Ohio regulators have wide leeway in investigating utilities’ activities, he noted, and the order doesn’t foreclose additional inquiries beyond whatever FirstEnergy files in response.

...Even if the rate of return looks OK on paper, one might ask if personnel at the parent and affiliates charged for time related to lobbying efforts, Brown said. Likewise, the utilities’ electric security plans include some cross-subsidies for unregulated activities.

Additionally, from 2017 through mid-2019, FirstEnergy’s utilities collected roughly $440 million from ratepayers for a credit support rider that wasn’t tied to any services for ratepayers. Critics have questioned what the company did with those funds. The Ohio Supreme Court subsequently held the charge unlawful but didn’t require a refund.

'To do this audit correctly, you can’t just look at the accounts' from the utilities, Brown said. 'You have to look at what’s behind the reporting. … It really requires a professional auditing firm that has financial skills and management skills and forensics skills.' And, he added, if improprieties show up, the bigger question is how the corporation and its directors and officers might have allowed them to happen.'"

-- Kathianne M Kowalski, Energy News Network

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Ohio regulators launch probe into FirstEnergy's political and charitable contributions

COLUMBUS - "...The outlook for the bailout to survive remains sketchy as lawmakers, already nervous over public reaction to the revelations made by federal prosecutors, have learned that a proposal by regional grid operator PJM would, in effect, nullify the impact of any state subsidies to a power plant by taking them into account when setting the minimum price acceptable from them in future capacity market auctions.

Veteran utility lawyer, Samuel Randazzo, now the chairman of the PUCO, deflected questions during a legislative hearing this week from Democratic lawmakers wanting to know why the PUCO had to be prodded by the state's consumer advocate to launch its own investigation.

They also demanded to know whether as a lawyer and lobbyist Randazzo or his previous management companies had a business relationship with FirstEnergy. Randazzo provided lawmakers with a broad but detailed overview of the state's utility laws but deflected questions about his former clients during his nearly 50-year law practice in the state.

The PUCO's decision to open a review of FirstEnergy's spending on political campaigns also left the Consumers' Counsel unhappy and critical."

-- John Funk, Utility Dive

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Lawmaker Accuses Utility Commision Chair Of Having Personal Interest In Nuclear Bailout

COLUMBUS -- "PUCO chair Sam Randazzo says he is not taking a position one way or the other on the potential repeal HB6, which bails out nuclear power plants among several other things.

Randazzo was asked if he ever did business with companies that would create a conflict when it comes to the bill.

...However, state Rep. Casey Weinstein (D-Hudson) pointed to public records that he says connects a company owned by Randazzo as a creditor for the former FirstEnergy subsidiary, previously known as FirstEnergy Solutions.

HB6 bails out two nuclear power plants owned by FirstEnergy Solutions, now called Energy Harbor.

Weinstein claims Randazzo has 'personal skin in the game.'"

-- Andy Chow, WOSU Radio

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OCPA responds to Sam Randazzo testimony on bills to repeal House Bill 6

(OH-September 16, 2020) Today, Public Utilities Commission of Ohio Chairman Sam Randazzo appeared before the House Select Committee on Energy Policy and Oversight to offer remarks on a number of bills intended to repeal House Bill 6.

While answering questions from committee members, Randazzo stated that he views himself as “old school.” But could it be that he is too “old school” to move Ohio forward into a clean energy future? After decades of being a passionate advocate for his anti-clean energy clients, he has an outdated view of the choice consumers want for their energy generation today. He also refers to decisions made prior to his Chairmanship at the PUCO as BS—Before Sam.

Randazzo referred to himself as “old school” in refusing to disclose his former clients when asked about what bias he might be bringing to the discussion. While he did state that he has never worked for any utility regulated by the PUCO or their affiliates, public records tell a different story. His companies, Sustainable Funding Alliance of Ohio and IEU Administration Company, are listed as creditors of FirstEnergy Solutions in public documents to the tune of $43,000 (links below).

If he has never worked for this company that is at the center of Ohio’s largest bribery scandal, it makes one wonder why they owe him money?

Randazzo also suggested that current energy policy allows markets to work just fine for clean energy development, yet companies like Third Solar in Athens has laid off 20 people following the passage of House Bill 6, with efforts to attract investors and employees hampered by the state’s opposition to the clean energy industry.

PUCO Chairman Sam Randazzo is out of touch and doing a great disservice to Ohio’s energy consumers. We deserve better. We deserve an energy policy that creates Ohio jobs, builds our economy at a time when we need it most, and reduces the pollution that impacts health. We deserve an energy policy that is not clouded by corruption and lies. And if Chairman Randazzo disagrees, maybe we call BS. But we definitely call on Governor Mike DeWine to replace Sam Randazzo today.

Public documents on ownership of company listed as FirstEnergy Solutions creditor: 

-- press release, Rachael Belz, director, Ohio Consumers Power Alliance

Ohio public utilities commission launches review of FirstEnergy political spending

COLUMBUS -- "The Public Utilities Commission of Ohio has opened a review of FirstEnergy’s lobbying on House Bill 6, the nuclear bailout law that’s now the subject of a federal corruption probe.

A Tuesday filing from PUCO staff directs FirstEnergy and its Ohio affiliates to demonstrate that the costs of any political or charitable spending in support of the bill, or on a subsequent effort to thwart a campaign to repeal it, 'were not included, directly or indirectly, in any rates or charges paid by ratepayers in this state.'

...Critics, including Ohio Consumers' Counsel Bruce Weston, have said the allegations in the federal investigation raise questions over whether FirstEnergy’s spending violated laws that bar using ratepayer money on lobbying, as well as those restricting how companies like FirstEnergy financially support their tightly regulated retail affiliates. They have said PUCO, which regulates utilities in Ohio, should investigate.

The PUCO opened the case one week after Weston requested PUCO to hire a third-party auditor to investigate FirstEnergy’s political spending in support of House Bill 6. The new PUCO filing does not order such an audit, although the agency feasibly could at some point in the future. The PUCO also has the ability to subpoena records and force testimony from state utilities."

-- Andrew Tobias,

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Still plenty of HB 6 nonsense to be sorted out

COLUMBUS -- "Now, while many are calling for HB 6 to be repealed, the Ohio Consumers’ Counsel, a ratepayers’ watchdog, wants the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio to audit FirstEnergy to determine whether any of the $60 million that fueled Generation Now came, improperly, from ratepayer funds collected for a specific purpose.

We second the OCC’s motion. The PUCO has earned a reputation for favoring utilities over consumers; it could counter that by taking a good look at some highly questionable dealings.

...Regardless of Householder’s guilt or innocence, HB 6 was birthed in deception and nonsense. If the PUCO isn’t interested in rooting it out, we trust the FBI and the U.S. district attorney are."

-- editorial, Columbus Dispatch

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PUCO Should Investigate, Too

WHEELING, WV -- "Though federal investigators have been tight-lipped about the matter, they clearly are looking into FirstEnergy. Why, then, should the PUCO pursue a separate probe?

Because the FBI’s interest is in finding evidence of crimes — not necessarily in making Ohio energy consumers whole if their money was used to pay bribes. Leave it up to the feds, then, to prosecute and perhaps punish any corporate officials involved in wrongdoing.

A PUCO investigation should be launched to connect all the dots regarding whether consumers’ utility payments were used for bribes — and how to hold any corporate interests accountable for repaying the money."

-- editorial, The Intelligencer

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read more about the PUCO and ties to FirstEnergy

Did FirstEnergy spend ratepayer money to secure $1.3B bailout?

Ohio consumer watchdog wants to know

COLUMBUS –  A federal investigation alleges an energy company, believed to be FirstEnergy and its affiliates, spent nearly $61 million to secure a $1.3 billion bailout for two northern Ohio nuclear plants.

But whose money paid for the scheme?

The Ohio Consumers' Counsel, a ratepayer watchdog, wants to make sure utility customers didn't foot the bill.

On Tuesday, Ohio Consumers' Counsel Bruce Weston asked the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio, which oversees utilities such as FirstEnergy, to audit the Akron-based company. 

The counsel wants the PUCO to dig into several topics: 

  • Did FirstEnergy and its affiliated companies use money collected from consumers to help pass and defend House Bill 6, the law which subsidizes nuclear energy?
  • Did FirstEnergy and its affiliated companies use money from a specific fee on customers' bills improperly? 
  • Are FirstEnergy and its affiliates too connected? "

-- Jesse Balmert, Cincinnati Enquirer

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Amid the HB 6 scandal, Ohio utility regulators must act to reassure ratepayers of the integrity of Ohio regulation

CAMBRIDGE, MA -- "While the substance of the House Bill 6 legislation is questionable, given its bestowing more private than public benefits and its adverse impact on the electricity market, the charges related to unlawful lobbying for its passage raise critical issues for both prosecutors and state regulators.

Based entirely on the public record, the situation demands accountability. Criminal prosecution, alone, is insufficient. There are important issues that go to the functionality and integrity of the Ohio’s regulatory process.

The two most critical issues are:

1. Whether ratepayer money was used for lobbying and/or bribery; and

2. Possible deficiencies in corporate governance.

The Public Utilities Commission of Ohio (PUCO) cannot stand by while the credibility of the regulatory process is eroded. It has tools which have been used in the past that should be deployed without disrupting the ongoing criminal investigations."

-- Ashley C. Brown, executive director of the Harvard Electricity Policy Group, Kennedy School at Harvard University. He served two full terms as a PUCO commissioner from 1983-1993, guest column,

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