FirstEnergy has its way with PUCO:
The Tongren scandal continues
June 9, 2004
Shari Weir, Cleveland Program Director
Ohio Citizen Action
Today, the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio gave FirstEnergy the lion's share of the $3 billion it demanded, and another chapter of what is known as the 'Tongren scandal' has been written.
Former Ohio Consumersí Counsel Robert Tongren was forced to resign last November 5 after it became known that he negotiated a deal in 2000 to give FirstEnergy twice the nuclear construction expenses they were entitled to, and then did his best to destroy the consultant's research that could have exposed what he had done.
How is the Tongren scandal continuing?
Thus bolstered, Schriber discarded all pretense of objectivity at the April 21 oral arguments on the case. He treated FirstEnergy opponents like the boy in "The Emperorís New Clothes" who got a swat on the head for saying what he saw.
Tongren took the fall, but his role will be seen in hindsight as relatively minor. He did approve a rotten deal, but the Public Utilities Commission, following Schriberís lead, is the agency that approved it. No one will speak on the record, but it is an open secret in Columbus that Schriber saw the same consultants report that cost Tongren his job. No one has taken action to hold Schriber accountable for his much larger role.
Since the unearthed consultantís report showed that several billion dollars worth of customer charges are involved, it should have been a matter of course that Schriber reopen the deregulation case in light of the new information. He did nothing to stop the flow of unjustified charges.
Schriber put the FirstEnergy case on the fast track, skipping over necessary steps in the investigation, even though the rates arenít due to go into effect until January 2006.
In the present case -- the biggest rate case in Ohio history, other than deregulation itself -- Ohio consumers were not represented in the proceedings by a Consumers' Counsel until after final briefs were filed. Why? Because Attorney General Jim Petro, and the Consumers' Counsel Governing Board which is accountable to him, decided that the hiring of Robert Tongren's replacement could wait until it was too late for his replacement to represent consumers in this case.
On March 16, Governor Bob Taft reappointed Alan Schriber as Public Utilities Chairman for another five-year term. In so doing, Taft not only acquiesced in, he rewarded Schriberís role in this scandal. (When Taft reappointed Schriber, did he know Schriber would approve FirstEnergy's demands? Of course he did. If there was any doubt about it, FirstEnergy would have blocked Schriber's reappointment.)
What is the truth that can't be said?
FirstEnergy was demanding billions of dollars in exchange for nothing at all.
All the costs for electricity generation, transmission, and customer service are already covered by the base rates. All the costs for paying off the expensive nuclear plants will have been paid already. The extra charge for those plants is now on all customer bills, even the customers who buy their power from another company. Northern Ohio electric bills had been set to drop $15 to $20 a month beginning January, 2006. The FirstEnergy plan wipes out those savings, extends the charge for three more years, and keeps electric bills 30% to 60% higher than bills in southern Ohio.
With today's action, Chairman Alan Schriber has become, far and away, the worst PUCO Chairman in Ohio history. No one has even come close to his record for unjustified rate hikes.
What if Gov. Bob Taft said his second-term economic plan was to pull $1 billion out of the economy of northern Ohio in each of 2006, 2007, and 2008?
That's what Taft and his appointee Schriber just decided to let FirstEnergy do. The "Third Frontier" turns out to be our pockets.