In Gov. John Kasich’s first budget, he slashed the Ohio Consumer’s Counsel in half, laying off 30 employees and severely injuring the agency from fully representing 4.5 million Ohioans against the well-financed utilities. When the top consumer cop asked to meet with the Governor to explain how this would hurt the average person, he refused.
Kasich has since appointed Todd Snitchler to run the PUCO. Snitchler is a former politician with no significant background in public utilities. Snitchler recently gained national attention for using his Twitter account to negatively portray the renewable energy industry and climate science.
But it is not the tweeting that should concern Ohioans. Kasich’s appointees at the PUCO are getting a reputation as not adequately protecting the interests of consumers and businesses, siding all too often with powerful special interests like FirstEnergy.
We all remember when Snitchler’s PUCO approved almost 40% in rate increases in American Electric Power territory. Enough pressure forced Snitchler to pull back the order. So what did we get? After all the drama of the first rate plan, we are stuck with 12% increases.
It’s not just AEP. All electric rates around Ohio are increasing with no relief in sight for average Ohioans, small business owners and manufacturers. In fact, FirstEnergy’s rates will be crippling for many businesses—capacity costs will increase 700% next year and 1,700% by 2015.
Now let’s look at gas prices. Recently, the Kasich PUCO took an unprecedented move to change the way the gas rates are determined. Currently, the “standard service offer” is determined through a competitive auction and provides consumers with real choices on whether the gas marketer at your door step or the flier in the mail is really the best offer. As reported in the Akron Beacon Journal, only one other state (Georgia) has eliminated the competitive standard service offer—and no surprise, their rates are higher than the national average. No wonder the Plain Dealer called it a “foolish plan.”
So what is next for Ohio? It is expected that FirstEnergy will be back at the Statehouse asking for help from Kasich, Snitchler and the legislature to repeal the Energy Efficiency Resource Standard. If you are in AEP territory, this efficiency standard has saved consumers over $1.4 billion. Yes, that is with a “B”. And in FirstEnergy territory, this standard has saved consumers $720 million. This standard is supported by consumer advocates, businesses and manufacturers for the very reason that it helps residents and businesses make strategic energy planning work. Under the current law, the efficiency programs must save more money than they cost. Makes sense. Let’s hope that Kasich and Snitchler agree.