On Thursday, members of a H0use subcommittee questioned Public Utilities Commission (PUCO) Chairman Todd Snitchler about language in Governor Kasich’s two-year budget (House Bill 59) that would allow utility companies to recover costs associated with rate discounts they provide to large energy users from consumers outside of their territory. Currently, utilities like First Energy or AEP can negotiate “reasonable arrangements” with large industrial users — oil refineries or auto factories, for example — who consume large amounts of energy. These arrangements allow the industrial users to pay a discounted rate, typically in exchange for a plant expansion that creates jobs and boosts the local economy. In exchange, the cost of the discount is spread across the bills of all the other consumers within the utility’s service territory. HB 59 includes a change that would allow those costs to be picked up by utility customers all across the state. For example, if First Energy decides to enter into a reasonable arrangement with a factory in Northeast Ohio, the cost of this rate reduction could appear on the bill of customers in Southeast Ohio. The policy shift caught the attention of subcommittee members. Reps. Mike Ashford and Denise Driehaus both asked Chairman Snitchler whether this policy is fair to ratepayers in other utility territories who are unlikely to share in the expanded economic activity, even while picking up the tab. [Read more…]
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. [Read more…]
The Turning Point Solar Project truly tells a 21st century, new Ohio economy story. It would be the largest solar project East of the Mississippi and is being built on reclaimed coal strip mine land. It’s a fantastic partnership of one of the nation’s largest utilities, working with a solar manufacturer who chose to locate in Ohio because of the project. In return, the solar manufacturer, committed to hire 60 percent of their workforce from returning Ohio veterans. This project has been underway for over two years. The manufacturing plant in Napoleon is ready to expand and hire more workers. The companies involved were ready to hire the workforce and construct one of the largest solar projects in the world in Southeast Ohio, a region of our state that could certainly use a shot in the arm. The project has it all, except for political leadership. Yesterday, in a 3-1 vote, Kasich appointees to the state’s Public Utilities Commission denied the project. The three commissioners who voted against the project have little to no experience in the public utilities sector. On the other hand, the experienced PUCO staff recommended the project be granted approval, and did so with vigor. In addition, the only PUCO commissioner with extensive experience in electric regulatory law supported approving the project. The bottom line: American Electric Power did the right thing—they created a game-changing project for Ohio, which the PUCO staff said was needed for AEP to be in compliance with Ohio laws. The project could create over 600 new Ohio jobs and would have given our state a positive spotlight we so deserve. So why isn’t Governor John Kasich outraged that his appointees rejected a job creating project? Kasich’s spokesperson says that they don’t want to get involved in the decisions of an independent commission. That’s odd, because they already have. Kasich admitted making calls when the American Electric Power rate case was going to negatively impact Ohioans. At his request, the PUCO rescinded the case. So why would he not inject himself in a decision that has over 600 jobs on the line, supports Ohio manufacturing, helps a utility meet their needs and makes Ohio more competitive? There is some speculation that Kasich remained mum on this one due to one of his largest campaign contributors, First Energy, coming out against the project. We can only hope that Kasich doesn’t stay silent forever and shows some of the “finance” and job creating skills he’s so fond of telling Ohioans has in spades. If this is the end for Turning Point Solar, Ohioans have one man to blame – and that’s the governor who could (have?) done something.