Recent news

DeWine rejects list of nominees for Ohio utility commission

Jan 21, 2021 1:24 PM

Four names were submitted to DeWine in December by the council as potential replacements for former PUCO Chair Sam Randazzo

COLUMBUS (AP) — "Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine faced swift criticism from consumer advocates Wednesday after he rejected the entire slate of candidates nominated to replace a former top state utility regulator tainted by a $60 million federal bribery investigation and requested a new list...

Four names were submitted to DeWine in December by the council as potential replacements for former PUCO Chair Sam Randazzo, who resigned Nov. 20.

Randazzo stepped down days after an FBI search of his Columbus townhome and a revelation by Akron-based FirstEnergy Corp., the utility at the center of the bribery scandal, that it had paid the firm of a state official meeting Randazzo’s description $4 million in early 2019 to terminate a long-term consulting relationship.

'Why would Gov. DeWine turn away professionals with extensive utility market experience and consumer advocacy expertise who could have brought a fresh start and much-needed perspective to a PUCO that is currently in the shadows of scandal?' asked Rachael Belz, director of the Ohio Consumers Power Alliance, in a statement.

'Unless Gov. DeWine is willing to provide us with his reasons for rejecting these candidates,' she added, 'it begs the question as to who exactly is steering the ship in Ohio — Gov. DeWine or the utilities?'"

— JULIE CARR SMYTH and MARK GILLISPIE, The Associated Press

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FBI investigation revealed vast FirstEnergy-backed political network hidden through lax state disclosure rules

Jan 19, 2021 11:33 PM

FirstEnergy

FirstEnergy headquarters in Akron

COLUMBUS – "Legal filings and media reports over the past six months gradually have peeled back the layers of a dark-money political network funded by FirstEnergy, the Akron-based utility company.

But because state and federal law don’t require political nonprofits to disclose their donors, the only reason the public knows about anything about the utility’s ties to the expansive constellation of Ohio political causes is the federal investigation into House Bill 6, the nuclear bailout law which prosecutors say passed due to a $61 million bribery scheme, funded by FirstEnergy and its affiliates through secret or difficult to trace political donations.

The U.S. attorney overseeing the case, David DeVillers, said anonymous political spending played a key role in the scandal. 'Dark money is a breeding ground for corruption,' he said in a statement shortly after then-House Speaker Larry Householder and others were arrested last July, revealing the investigation."

– Andrew Tobias, cleveland.com

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Ohio regulators set to officially pause nuclear bailout fees created through tainted energy bill

Jan 14, 2021 1:50 PM

"Perry Nuclear Power Plant Marks 30 Years of Safe and Reliable Operation by FirstEnergy Corp. is licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0"

COLUMBUS — "Ohio’s top lawyer asked a court Thursday to block FirstEnergy Corp. from collecting special fees from customers that were set up under a now-tainted nuclear bailout bill to allow the company to maintain record-high profits even if electricity sales dip.

Republican Attorney General Dave Yost filed his request in Franklin County Common Pleas Court, where a judge already has blocked fees that House Bill 6 established for bailing out two nuclear power plants operated by a former FirstEnergy subsidiary, Energy Harbor.

The bill is at the center of a $60 million federal bribery probe that alleges Larry Householder, the state House speaker at the time, used the money to politically position and succeed at passing the bailout bill. Householder and four others charged have pleaded not guilty.

Yost said customers also should not have to pay the $102 million that FirstEnergy is set to collect in 2021 through a 'perverse form a decoupling' that not only unlinked how much the company makes from how much electricity it sells but guaranteed it maintain the level of profits at record-high 2018 levels."

— Associated Press, The Toledo Blade

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600+ groups urge Biden to halt water, electricity, and broadband shutoffs through emergency Executive Order on day 1

Jan 13, 2021 4:49 PM

WASHINGTON, DC - "More than 600 utility-justice, environmental, racial justice, labor, and faith groups delivered a letter today to President-Elect Joe Biden and Vice President-Elect Kamala Harris urging their administration to halt utility shutoffs nationwide to protect public health. 

The No Shutoffs Coalition, which has advocated for a federal moratorium on utility shutoffs since the COVID-19 crisis began, presented Biden with a draft Executive Order that would instruct the Director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to use her authority under the Public Health Service Act to enact a national moratorium on residential disconnections of all water, electricity, broadband, heat and other necessary utility services for nonpayment. 

The proposed order, which would also mandate safe restoration to previously disconnected homes, would last the full duration of the COVID national emergency and at least 12 months following its end. 

'No American—regardless of the color of their skin, their zip code, or their income—should ever have to choose between heating their homes, keeping the lights on, the broadband they need to work or learn remotely, and putting food on the table. That’s especially true in the middle of a global pandemic, where public health experts are emphasizing how important it is that each of us stay home to stay safe,' said U.S. Senator Jeff Merkley. 'While many states and utility companies have stepped up to do the right thing, many families are still just a missed payment away from losing critical utilities in the middle of this public health and economic emergency. For all of us to get through this together we need to have a national disconnection moratorium that ensures that no family is left behind in the patchwork of policies.'" 

- Press Release by: Food & Water Watch, Free Press Action, Center for Biological Diversity, Corporate Accountability, The Partnership for Southern Equity (PSE), and The Democracy Collaborative

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Citizens' Utility Board pushes for more protections for Cleveland residents

Jan 12, 2021 4:47 PM

A closeup of an energy meter

The Citizens' Utility Board of Ohio called on Cleveland City Council members to investigate the high rates for electricity at Cleveland Public Power. [JWPhotoworks / Shutterstock]

CLEVELAND -- "A consumer protection group is calling on Cleveland City Council to do more to protect residents from rising utility costs.

The Citizens Utility Board of Ohio (CUB) told council members on Tuesday that Clevelanders are the ones who end up paying, literally, for Cleveland Public Power’s (CPP) bad contracts.

CPP rates are now higher than FirstEnergy’s, said Sandy Buchanan CUB member and executive director at the Institute for Energy, Economics and Financial Analysis. CPP contracts with the American Municipal Power (AMP) group to purchase its power, Buchanan said, and those contracts are costing Cleveland residents far more than they should.

'Our organization estimates that these two contracts alone have cost CPP ratepayers $106 million more for power than customers would have paid if CPP had bought the electricity from regional wholesale markets,' Buchanan said."

-- Taylor Haggerty, NPR's Ideastream

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Cleveland City Council members might subpoena FirstEnergy, citing efforts to undermine CPP

Jan 11, 2021 3:57 PM

CLEVELAND – "Cleveland City Council might subpoena leaders of FirstEnergy to testify about so-called dark money that investigators have linked to the utility and that ended up in a campaign against Cleveland Public Power.

During a briefing Monday, some council members called for the unusual step of issuing a subpoena because court filings identify FirstEnergy as “Company A” that bankrolled the effort to undermine city-owned CPP.

'The player that I want to focus on is Company A,' Councilman Blaine Griffin said. 'Company A clearly is trying to influence Cleveland. … We need to, in addition to looking at this dark money, we really need to illuminate Company A.'

Council launched an investigation in August to determine whether any parties accused in a statehouse corruption scandal related to legislative bailouts for two nuclear plants and two coal plants also sought to harm CPP."

– Robert Higgs, cleveland.com

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FirstEnergy to answer questions about whether ratepayer money funded HB 6 effort

Jan 08, 2021 4:40 PM

COLUMBUS – "Did FirstEnergy companies spend Ohio ratepayers’ money on their bid to pass a $1 billion bailout for two nuclear plants? An executive will soon answer questions about that. 

Santino Fanelli, director of rates and regulatory affairs for Akron-based FirstEnergy Service Company, said the companies 'have not included, directly or indirectly, any House Bill 6 costs in any rates or charges paid by ratepayers in Ohio,' according to a sworn affidavit filed in late September. 

Now, consumer advocates can challenge that assertion and ask questions about whether FirstEnergy's political spending hit Ohioans' electric bills, administrative judges for the state's energy regulators ruled Thursday.

"We think it's only fair that the statements in the affidavit be subject to cross-examination under oath," said Greg Price, an administrative law judge for the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio or PUCO." 

– Jessie Balmert, The Cincinnati Enquirer

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House Speaker’s office requests resolution be drafted to expel member

Jan 08, 2021 4:09 PM

Rep. Larry Householder, R-Glenford, is seen in top right being sworn-in to a new term as a state legislator on Monday, Jan. 4, as House Speaker Bob Cupp, R-Lima, looks on. Screenshot courtesy the Ohio Channel.

COLUMBUS -- "The office of Ohio House Speaker Bob Cupp has sought a resolution be drafted to expel a member of the state legislature.

Though the request does not identify the member in question, this may mark the first step taken to remove from office Rep. Larry Householder, R-Glenford, the former House speaker who was arrested last year on corruption charges for his alleged involvement in the nuclear bailout bill scandal. 

Sheila Willamowski Boehner, the deputy chief of staff and executive counsel for Speaker Cupp, sent an internal request to the Legislative Service Commission asking for two resolutions to be drafted. The request, made Thursday and obtained by the OCJ, asks for a floor resolution to expel a member and a separate floor resolution to “create a committee to investigate.” Both are asked to be drafted within the next week."

-- Tyler Buchanan, Ohio Capital Journal 

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Ohio clean energy foe at forefront of key points in bailout law, ratification efforts

Jan 06, 2021 2:19 PM

Rep. Seitz at House Session on June 10, 2020Rep. Seitz at House Session on June 10, 2020

"Documents made available last week show how House Majority Floor Leader Bill Seitz, R-Cincinnati, championed gutting Ohio’s clean energy standards in the state’s 2019 coal and nuclear bailout law. He has since served as a force against repeal.

Claims in a federal complaint released in July indicate that the law was at the heart of an alleged corruption scheme involving roughly $60 million. Former Ohio House Speaker Larry Householder, R-Glenford, and others were arrested last summer.

Failure to repeal the law in 2020 was 'an astounding failure by Republican leadership,' said Rep. David Leland, D-Columbus, as the legislature adjourned last month.

'Repealing the bill would be the dumbest thing ever done,' Seitz said in an Aug. 28 email to Ohio Energy Association lobbyist Michael Kurtz. 'All we need to do is to strengthen the audit standards and possibly revisit the FE [FirstEnergy] decoupling provision. The herd of sheeple are all in a panic over what I consider the best energy bill we ever passed in my 20 years.'"

- Kathiann M. Kowalski, Energy News Network

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Funding challenges limit minority-owned businesses’ access to energy efficiency

Jan 04, 2021 1:53 PM

"Securing capital is a big challenge for many Black- and other minority-owned businesses. Whether through outright discrimination or more subtle bias, many companies face a disadvantage in a financial world where personal relationships can make or break a deal. 

It’s a particularly vexing problem when it comes to energy efficiency improvements, which can save money and in many cases more than pay for themselves. That dilemma becomes even more pressing as the pandemic continues.

'Capital has become an issue for almost every Black-owned business, small and midsize businesses especially,' said Carla Walker-Miller, founder and CEO of Walker-Miller Energy Services in Detroit.  

In large part, the dilemma’s roots stem from ongoing inequities that stack the deck against people of color."

-- Kathiann Kowalsi, Energy News Network

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