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Posted on Wed, Oct. 29, 2003 story:PUB_DESC
Trashing of report defended
State officials say consultant's view of FirstEnergy was among dozens destroyed under new policy

Associated Press

Some staff members at the state's utility watchdog office were concerned about the destruction of a report criticizing Akron-based FirstEnergy's cost estimates for electricity deregulation, an official with the Ohio Consumers' Counsel said Tuesday.

Eric Stephens, deputy Ohio consumer counsel, told the counsel's board that he attributed the concerns to ``typical staff anguish'' over getting rid of documents. The report by energy consultant La Capra Associates said FirstEnergy's estimates were high.

Stephens said he and Consumers' Counsel Rob Tongren considered the concerns but decided to get rid of the document as part of a new policy on discarding records.

Tongren said the document was discarded under the policy because the case involving FirstEnergy's costs was finished.

Several OCC officials said the report was not singled out for destruction and was one of several discarded under the new policy.

It was among at least 50 discarded under that policy, said Monica Hunyadi, the agency's director of operations.

At issue is how much FirstEnergy Corp. should have been allowed to collect to recoup from what it spent building nuclear power plants before the electricity market was deregulated in 2001.

The analysis by Boston-based La Capra criticized FirstEnergy's power-plant costs, which the utility estimated at $8.7 billion, a figure that includes taxes collected by utilities on behalf of state and local governments. Without those taxes figured in, the estimated cost to consumers is about $6.9 billion.

Joseph Bowser, the OCC's director of analytical services, said the agency estimated a much lower figure of $2.6 billion using internal research and the La Capra analysis.

Tongren and Stephens said the agency decided it was better for it to join an agreement negotiated by 19 groups over FirstEnergy's costs than to oppose the deal and risk losing significant benefits to consumers.

``There was a recognition of FirstEnergy's conviction to litigate these cases as long and as far and as hard'' as possible, Stephens said.

Tongren said Ohio probably would have lost a court fight to lower the fees because the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio had supported the higher figure.

Tongren's office paid La Capra $579,000 to advise on several deregulation issues. Staffers discarded all deregulation documents in July following a change in internal policy for record storage.

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