Chronology of northern Ohio electric utility campaigns


1905: Cleveland Mayor Tom Johnson creates the Cleveland Municipal Light System to compete with Cleveland's private utility, Cleveland Electric Illuminating Co.

1969-1976: The City of Cleveland sells off major city assets to cover operating deficits: the port (1969), sewer system (1972), stadium (1974), and the transit system (1975). In 1976, Mayor Ralph Perk prepares to sell the city's Muny Light system.

1977: Ohio Citizen Action joins with the United Auto Workers and Councilman Dennis Kucinich to campaign against tax abatements for downtown developers and the sale of Muny Light. The campaign results in what became known as the "Tuesday night massacre," a political purge in which voters oust Mayor Perk and seven council members who supported the sale of Muny Light and tax abatements.

1978-79: Defying CEI and the city's major banks, Cleveland's new Mayor Kucinich refuses to sell Muny Light. The banks throw the city into financial default to force the sale, but Kucinich puts the issue on the ballot. After a bitter winter door-to-door campaign -- led again by Ohio Citizen Action, United Auto Workers, and Kucinich -- Clevelanders vote 2-to-1 to keep Muny Light.

1979-1996: The administrations of Cleveland Mayors George Voinovich and Mike White pass measures to expand Muny Light citywide, even though both men strongly backed CEI in its 1978-79 bid to acquire Muny Light and end local competition for electricity.

1979: CEI cancels plans for four new nuclear plants after spending hundreds of millions of dollars on early work.

1982-84: With backing from Ohio Citizen Action, Richard Celeste is elected governor and overhauls the Public Utilities Commission. The new Commission cuts "construction work in progress" rate hikes for the unfinished Perry I nuclear plant -- the single biggest reason for electric rate increases since the late 1970's. Celeste and Ohio Citizen Action then join forces to win a legislative compromise limiting and such future increases.

1985: A near-catastrophic accident shuts down the Davis-Besse nuclear power plant in Port Clinton for 18 months.

1987: Voters in Clyde, Ohio, at the edge of Toledo Edison's service area, vote 1,042 to 468 to create a public power system with rates 25% less than Toledo Edison's rates.

1988: The Commission approves a 10% rate hike for Ohio Edison customers for the Perry and Beaver Valley nuclear power plants.

1989: An Ohio Citizen Action initiative petition with 27,000 signatures forces Toledo City Council to investigate cheaper competitive alternatives to Toledo Edison. At first, only 3 members of City Council supported the study, but the threatened ballot issue prompted a 9-0 City Council vote to create an Electric Franchise Review Committee charged with overseeing the investigation of lower-cost electricity.

1989: The Public Utilities Commission approves a 24% rate hike for Cleveland Electric Illuminating and Toledo Edison customers to pay for the Perry and Beaver Valley nuclear power plants, increasing electric bills for the average household by $150-$200 a year. The Perry I plant, originally projected to cost $617 million, had a final price tag of $5.5 billion, and the Beaver Valley plant cost $4.5 billion. With this decision to charge ratepayers for the plants, the Commission violated its own policy on "excess capacity," forcing northern Ohioans to pay for power we didn't need.

1990: The Commission approves another 8.4% rate increase for Ohio Edison customers for the Perry and Beaver Valley nuclear power plants.

1991: Toledo Edison's residential and small business customers save 7% on their rates as the private utility tries unsuccessfully to head off Ohio Citizen Action's public power campaign.

1991: R.W. Beck Co., the consultant for the Electric Franchise Review Committee in Toledo, finds that a public power system could save Toledo residents and businesses $2 billion over 20 years.

1993: Ohio Citizen Action Toledo program director Paula Ross manages the mayoral campaign of Councilman Mike Ferner, a strong public power advocate. Ferner, a clear underdog at the outset of the campaign, lost the election by only 672 votes.

1994: On January 4, Centerior, parent company of CEI and Toledo Edison, scraps the unfinished Perry II nuclear power plant, takes a $1 billion loss, and cuts its dividend in half. This followed an earlier dividend cut, the elimination of 3,500 jobs and a downgrading of its securities to junk-bond status.

1994: A newly elected Toledo City Council votes 7-5 to kill the completion of the public power study. Ohio Citizen Action responds by undertaking another initiative petition drive.

1995: CEI and Toledo Edison file for a $119 million rate hike.

1995: Ohio Citizen Action returns to Toledo City Council with signatures from 17,000 Toledo residents calling for the completion of the public power study. Again, faced with the threat of a ballot issue, Council acts in the public interest and restores full funding to finish the study.

1995: The Commission approves a 10-year plan for Ohio Edison that gives tiny rate cuts to residential customers and big rate breaks to industrial customers. The deal is cut behind closed doors, with the support of the Consumers' Counsel, the state-appointed advocate for residential ratepayers.

1996: In a highly unusual move, the Public Utilities Commission approves the full amount of CEI and Toledo Edison's rate request. That decision convinces a growing list of local elected officials that the regulatory process had collapsed, substantially expanding our opportunities to pursue publiic power and other competitive alternatives.

1996: CEI, Toledo Edison, and Ohio Edison announce plans to merge and form a company named FirstEnergy.

1997: Ohio Governor George Voinovich and State House leaders appoint a special House-Senate committee charged with making recommendations on how to bring electric competition to Ohio.

1998: Ohio Sen. Bruce Johnson and Rep. Priscilla Mead introduce legislation to open Ohio's electric industry to competition. This plan gives FirstEnergy the opportunity to receive a 50% to 100% bailout for past nuclear debt from its customers.

1998: The City of Toledo renews the debate of establishing a public power systerm. Councilman Pete Gerken asks the Department of Justice to investigate FirstEnergy's anti-competitive behavior during these debates.

1998: FirstEnergy fires nearly 1,800 service employees sinces its merger. Ohio Citizen Action joins labor organizations and religious groups to oppose the lay-offs.

1998 - 1989: Ohio Citizen Action launches its Stop the Bailout campaign by aiding 20 communities in passing resolutions opposing the proposed $9 billion bailout for FirstEnergy.

1998: Ohio Citizen Action's door-to-door canvassers collect 15,000 hand-written letters to Ohio legislators, urging them to open Ohio's electric industry to competition and force FirstEnergy to pay its own debts.

1998: Ohio Citizen Action launches a short-term campaign to win true competition for all electric customers in a deregulated market. Ohio Citizen Action's door-to-door canvass and telephone canvass educates thousands of FirstEnergy customers on the importance of "opt-out" community choice, a measure that would allow local governments to shop for electricity on behalf of residents and businesses, and collects letters and telewires to state legislators.

1999: Although the "insider" lobbyists, legislators, and utilities said it couldn’t be done, Ohio Citizen Action works with local officials and other allies in a successful campaign to pass "community choice" provisions as part of Ohio’s electric deregulation bill in June 1999. The provisions, which allow local governments to bargain for lower electric rates on behalf of their residents, go into effect in January 2001. Of 25 states with electric deregulation, Ohio is only the second to include community choice.

We continue to oppose First Energy’s proposal for an $8.8 billion bailout of its past mistakes, which are known as "stranded costs." Because the legislature punted this decision to the PUCO, we have joined with several allies to challenge First Energy’s claims in the regulatory and rule-making process.

2000:Voters in 132 communities pass the community choice option on their local ballots, giving over 750,000 residential consumers an opportunity to be represented in buying groups.

The Public Utilities Commission gives FirstEnergy $9 billion for past debts. That translates into a monthly surcharge for northern Ohio families of about $30. The bulk of that surcharge is scheduled to last through 2005.

2001: On January 1, Ohio opens its market to electric competition, ending nearly a century of electric monopolies. In March, the Northeast Ohio Public Energy Council, which includes 100 communities, chooses Green Mountain Energy to sell electricity to their residents. Later that year, Northwest Ohio communities also negotiate contracts with power supplliers. By the end of the first year of electric competition, about 600,000 residential customers have a new electricity supplier. Nearly all of the 600,000 are in FirstEnergy territory -- about 1/3 of FirstEnergy’s residential customers switched -- where Ohio Citizen Action and others have fought for 25 years against FirstEnergy’s high rates. In November, more communities win voter approval to shop for electricity.

Several communities, including Cleveland, Canton, and Toledo, got the voter OK to shop for natural gas.

When natural gas utilities, the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio and the Office of Consumers’ Counsel slip through last-minute amendments in the Ohio House to gut legislation to allow community buying pools, Ohio Citizen Action mobilizes local elected officials to mount a quick, intense campaign to undue the damage during Senate deliberations, successfully restoring language modeled on the electric community choice measure.

2002: In March, workers going through the Davis Besse nuclear power plant is on Lake Erie during a refueling outage discover a football-sized hole in the head of the nuclear reactor, caused by leaking boric acid. The only thing preventing a rupture of the reactor head was a 3/8" lining of stainless steel, which was not designed to contain the high pressure within the reactor and was already cracking and bulging. The extent of damage was unprecedented in a nuclear plant in the United States.

Ohio Citizen Action launches a campaign in May 2002 to prevent FirstEnergy from reopening of the nuclear reactor at Davis-Besse. Our members begin sending personal letters to CEO Peter Burg and several First Energy board members in the Cleveland and Akron area. We open the debate about whether the facility could be converted to another form of energy generation and four members of Congress from the area endorsed this call for investigation.

We reveal flaws in the Ottawa County evacuation plan, and surveyed residents near the plant to see what they would do in the event of an accident. We work with local citizens and whistleblowers to raise questions at the monthly public meetings held in the community by the NRC. The highlight of our media coverage is a 20-minute segment on the national PBS news magazine, NOW with Bill Moyers, which aired on January 24, 2003 and generated tremendous reaction on the campaign.

2003: During the shutdown, the plant's owner, FirstEnergy, reveals that the pumps which would send water into the reactor in the event of a meltdown have been designed wrong since the plant was built, and may have clogged with debris during an accident.

A federal grand jury investigates events at Davis-Besse, and FirstEnergy applies to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission for permission to restart the plant. We use many of the techniques of good neighbor campaigns in our effort to stop FirstEnergy from being able to reopen this facility.

Ohio Citizen Action members send an astounding 30,000 letters to company management and 12,800 letters to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, asking them to "Look me in the eye and tell me Davis-Besse is safe." We work closely with the Union of Concerned Scientists and whistleblowers to highlight the safety problems, recruit fifty doctors and nurses to send a letter to FirstEnergy urging them to explore alternatives to reopening the reactor, and organize residents of the nearby islands to highlight the absence of an evacuation plan. FirstEnergy sink over half a billion dollars into repairs at Davis-Besse and replacement power, but shows no signs of fixing the main problem at the plant: the lack of safety culture at FirstEnergy.

In November, we help force the resignation of Ohio Consumers Counsel Robert Tongren after media revelations that he had made a deal with FirstEnergy to support a multi-billion dollar bailout of the company when Ohio deregulated electricity in 2000. Tongren had destroyed a report by his own consultant showing that FirstEnergy’s "stranded costs," accumulated as a result of mismanagement and cost overruns for its nuclear plants, were six billion dollars less than the company wanted, and eventually got.

FirstEnergy’s financial situation is so desperate that they request an additional $3 billion bailout from the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio, and want the case rushed through on an expedited schedule.