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FirstEnergy rate ruling expected Thursday

Posted at 11:13 AM, Mar 30, 2016
The Public Utilities Commission of Ohio is scheduled to rule on a plan Thursday that could affect close to two million customers.
 
Akron-based First Energy said Tuesday a plan it presented to the PUCO back in 2014 will save its 1.9 million customers money, but critics disagree and believe those customers will end up paying much more over the eight-year span of the deal.
 
Retired lawyer Jim Ciocia lives in Lyndhurst on a fixed income. He wrote a letter to the PUCO, opposing what he called a “bailout."
 
“It is a bailout,” Ciocia said. "They want government to be there to help them make money and that is, to me, that is disruptive of the capitalist system that we live in.”
 
First Energy wants to subsidize operations at their Davis Besse nuclear plant and their W.H. Sammis coal plant for the next eight years. The Power Purchase Agreement would guarantee profitability at a time when the aging plants have been hit by low natural gas prices. In exchange, the company said, customers will enjoy stable energy prices and 3,000 plant workers will have job stability.
 
First Energy Vice President of Rates and Regulatory Affairs Bill Ridmann said their independent review showed customers’ bills will initially increase a few dollars a month, but will eventually drop, for an eight year savings of about $560 million.
 
But a report from the Northeast Ohio Public Energy Council claimed customers will actually end up paying $3.9 billion more over that same time. Environmentalists like Shannon Adams with Ohio Citizen Action said that means customers will pay more to prop up old, inefficient plants.
 
“I think they’re just running a really outdated business model,” Adams said. “It’s not our job to pay for their mistakes and to guarantee profits for their shareholders.”
 
Thousands of customers have filed comments on the PUCO website in opposition to the plan. Ridmann said many of those in opposition do not understand it.
 
“The sophisticated customer, who really follow the marketplace,” Ridmann said, “Are in support of the plan.”
 
But Ciocia, a long-time First Energy customer, said he has studied the issue for a year and attended an informational session. He is still not convinced, but acknowledges the power rests in the hands of the PUCO.
 
“We have very little control over the cost of our power,” he said. "We don’t have any recourse, so we don’t have any real leverage in this situation.”
 
If approved, the deal would take effect in June. Columbus-based American Electric Power also has a proposal, modeled after First Energy’s plan, that the PUCO is also scheduled to take up at their meeting Thursday.

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