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, cleveland.com

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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COLUMBUS -- "Now, while many are calling for HB 6 to be repealed, the Ohio Consumers’ Counsel, a ratepayers’ watchdog, wants the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio to audit FirstEnergy to determine whether any of the $60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, cleveleand.com

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HB 6 costs go well beyond claimed harm to public trust in Ohio

COLUMBUS -- "A bill to repeal Ohio’s nuclear bailout law has languished for more than a month so far, and signs suggest that House leadership may be angling to defer or stop such efforts as Election Day draws near. Lawmakers filed repeal bills soon after the arrest of former House Speaker Larry Householder and others in July. 

Starting in January, House Bill 6 will require ratepayers to pay approximately $1 billion over the course of six years for subsidies that FirstEnergy had sought for two Ohio nuclear plants. Yet more is at stake, even beyond the $7 average increase in monthly energy spending that some advocates forecast as a result of the law.

...the bill’s costs will also certainly play a part in the debates. 

'Hardworking Ohioans will see their monthly utility bill increase an additional $7.01,' on average, said Miranda Leppla, vice president of energy policy for the Ohio Environmental Council. Other projected costs include health burdens from pollution, lost jobs, and lost economic opportunities."

-- Kathianne M Kowalski, Midwest Energy News

read more for a breakdown of projections

Ohio lawmakers challenge siting board over ‘poison pill’ for offshore wind

State Senator Sandra Williams

The Ohio Power Siting Board says it may reconsider a ruling that developers say would effectively kill the state’s first offshore wind project

COLUMBUS - "Power Siting Board Chair Samuel Randazzo — facing questions at the board’s Aug. 27 meeting from two state lawmakers who sit on the siting board — said he hoped to have an order prepared for a vote at the board’s September meeting, though it isn’t yet clear what impact it would have on the May decision.

...The siting board had approved the Icebreaker project in May without Randazzo mentioning that deep in the 111-page permit was language allowing the state to order the turbines to shut down at night for eight months out of the year if it decides that sophisticated radar and bird collision detection systems are not adequate or if the wind farm kills more than 21 birds in 24 hours. Neither Crossman nor Williams were aware of the provision. They are non-voting members. 

[State Senator Sandra] Williams demanded that Randazzo explain why she and her staff did not receive the documents for the May vote until only hours before the meeting. “That is not the norm. That has not been the process since I have been on the board,” she said, 'especially with such a large and significant document.'"

-- John Funk, Energy News Network

link to full article

Consumer organizations respond to Sam Randazzo conducting business as usual

(OH-August 27, 2020) Today, the Ohio Power Siting Board (OPSB) once again delayed the expected reconsideration of the Lake Erie Icebreaker Wind demonstration project. This move postponed the discussion of the project even further, despite the call of 32 Northeast Ohio legislators who support the 500 jobs and $253 million the project would bring to the local economy.

This comes on the heels of yesterday’s Public Utilities Commission of Ohio's (PUCO) decision to approve the ironically named House Bill 6 Clean Air Fund charge that will provide FirstEnergy and its dark money campaign with an annual reward of $150 million to bailout its two failing nuclear plants. While this bailout was bought and paid for by $61 million in FirstEnergy bribes, the policy itself will be paid for by hard-working Ohio consumers. The PUCO decision comes almost immediately following the Ohio Senate President’s announcement that members would return to Columbus early next week to repeal House Bill 6.

The order resulting from this PUCO decision further states that the Commission will not conduct a bill impact analysis beyond the staff recommendation because the “simplicity of the math” should allow parties to identify impacts for themselves. This dismissive move ensures that the Ohioans footing the bill for FirstEnergy’s bad decisions can expect no oversight or accountability from the state. Essentially, they have invited Ohio consumers to pull out a calculator and figure it out for themselves.

Both the PUCO and the Ohio Power Siting Board are run by Commission Chair Sam Randazzo. Randazzo is Governor Mike DeWine’s hand-picked Chair, despite the fact that he spent decades as an anti-clean energy lobbyist. He has led both entities to recent decisions that fly squarely in the face of Governor DeWine’s “all-of-the-above” energy strategy, and has hung a reputation on Ohio as a backward state not interested in the economic development and job growth that results from clean energy investment.

Sam Randazzo’s ties to FirstEnergy are quickly coming to light. Randazzo’s company, Sustainability Funding Alliance of Ohio, is on FirstEnergy’s payroll and turned up in First Energy Solutions’ bankruptcy filings as a company used by them for professional services. Former Speaker Larry Householder, now indicted in the $61 million bribery scandal involving FirstEnergy, put Sam Randazzo’s long-time business partner on the PUCO Nominating Council just before Randazzo was nominated. Then, Randazzo gave that business partner a job at the PUCO. Further, the chair of the PUCO Nominating Council was a FirstEnergy lobbyist.

Randazzo appears to be checking the boxes for his friends at FirstEnergy. Ensuring the adoption of the House Bill 6 charge just days before the Senate plans to return to Columbus to repeal the legislation, and hamstringing reconsideration efforts of a precedent-setting renewable energy project for the state are not the actions of a public official who is carrying out an “all-of-the-above” energy strategy. He appears to be carrying out a FirstEnergy political agenda. For Sam Randazzo, it is business as usual.

Ohio Citizen Action and the Ohio Consumers Power Alliance call on Governor Mike DeWine to change the way we do business. Replace Sam Randazzo now. Learn more about Randazzo’s anti-clean energy history at www.samrandazzo.com.

-- Rachael Belz, press release, Ohio Citizen Action, Ohio Consumers Power Alliance

Cleveland Council President Wants Wind Turbine Restrictions Removed

CLEVELAND -- "The ruling should be revisited, Kelley said, especially as state legislators are being investigated for an alleged racketeering scheme tied to a nuclear bailout bill.

'This action was taken basically to stop an emerging renewable technology, and the reason I think that is, who has an interest in this not succeeding, and why?' Kelley said. 'This is no time to be making decisions that are not fully transparent, not fully justified. This decision is not supported by the record, plain and simple.'

City council is expected to vote on a resolution in connection with the Icebreaker decision Aug. 26. A bipartisan coalition in the Ohio General Assembly requested a rehearing on the decision, and the Ohio Power Siting Board is expected to review an application from the project developers to reconsider the restrictions."

--Taylor Haggerty, WCPN

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PUCO ties to FirstEnergy


-- Curtis Jackson, Capitol Letter, cleveland.com