Group urges Gov. Bob Taft to take a stand on FirstEnergy rate case

For immediate release
Wednesday, December 17, 2003

Contact: Shari Weir, Cleveland Program Director
Ohio Citizen Action
(216) 861-5200, (216) 533-0722 (cell)

COLUMBUS -- Citizen Action today urged Governor Bob Taft to direct the Public Utilities Commission to make a full, thorough and open review of an application by FirstEnergy to extend collection of "stranded costs" for three years. Citizen Action delivered 4,700 postcards to the governor also calling on him to arrange a refund of the billions of dollars customers are now overpaying for FirstEnergy’s stranded costs.

In its October 21 filing, with the Public Utilities Commission, FirstEnergy changed the name of stranded costs, required by law to end December 31, 2005, to "rate stabilization charge." The renamed charge would be collected through 2008 in the name of a rate freeze, costing the average family about $30 a month.

"There are two critical issues here," said Shari Weir of Ohio Citizen Action. "First, this is the most expensive rate case in state history, except for the $9 billion FirstEnergy stranded cost case. Why is the Utilities Commission rushing it through with minimal scrutiny? And second, what justification can there be for forcing customers to keep paying this extra cost?"

"Routine rate cases that change monthly bills by only a few dollars are subject to a much more extensive review. Before requesting a rate change, a utility must file a 30-day notice of intent to file. After the application is filed, the commission has 275 days to carry out all phases of its review, including a detailed staff report. Typically, the rate change takes place within weeks after the commission’s decision. FirstEnergy’s rates, however, would not be affected until 2006."

FirstEnergy filed its application October 21, 2003, and asked for a decision by the end of the year. The Commission extended that deadline by eight weeks, but substituted staff testimony for a detailed staff report and held public hearings too early in the process for the public to make a forceful statement.

"'Rate stabilization' is a misleading term," Weir said. "The application contains measures for automatic rate increases for taxes, environmental costs, and so on, on top of the monthly 'stabilization' charge."

"With the amount of money on the line, Gov. Taft and other state officials have a clear responsibility to step in," Weir said. "Northern Ohio can not afford silence from them."

Ohio Citizen Action is the state's largest environmental organization, with 100,000 dues-paying members.

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