The Public Utilities Commission of Ohio (PUCO) will hold hearings next week in Akron, Toledo and Cleveland to give local citizens a chance to voice their views on FirstEnergy’s plan for customers to guarantee sales for certain power plants.

Under the proposed plan, FirstEnergy’s Ohio utilities would purchase all electricity produced by certain coal plants and the Davis-Besse nuclear plant owned by its unregulated affiliate, FirstEnergy Solutions. Customers would pay the difference or get a credit for any savings between the contract price and current market prices.

Although the initial rate request from FirstEnergy is for a three-year period, the plan it wants approved would span 15 years. FirstEnergy admits the plan would cost customers more for several years. However, the company claims the plan would add rate stability and benefit customers in the long run.

Critics say customers would definitely pay higher electricity rates in the short run and would likely lose long-term as well.

Another question is whether the plan would illegally shift to customers the burden of any lost profits for the covered power plants. Under a 1999 statute, Ohio law mandates competition in the state’s electricity generation market and forbids preferences to utilities’ affiliates.

‘We won’t turn anyone away’

This is not the first time the PUCO has held local hearings in an administrative case, says agency spokesperson Matt Schilling. Local hearings have been held on so-called “electric security plans” before, as well as some other rate cases and power plant siting cases.

The hearings will not have any formal presentation from FirstEnergy or any question and answer session. Rather, each hearing is “really just testimony from the public,” said Schilling.

Each hearing starts at 6 p.m. The dates and locations are:

  • Monday, January 12, Oliver R. Ocasek Government Center, 161 South High Street, Akron.
  • Thursday, January 15, Michael V. Disalle Government Center, 640 Jackson Street, Toledo
  • Tuesday, January 20, Cleveland City Hall, 601 Lakeside Avenue, Cleveland

People can sign up to testify as they arrive. Then the hearing examiner will call them to speak.

“We won’t turn anyone away as long as we’re there,” Schilling said.

Members of the public who speak will testify under oath. Their remarks will become part of the official case record for the PUCO’s decision.

“I just really encourage people not to be intimidated. Schilling said. “You’re not going to be cross-examined.”

Also planning to attend…

Neither FirstEnergy nor other interested parties will play any formal role at the hearings in Akron, Toledo or Cleveland. Nonetheless, various representatives will be available to talk informally with interested people.

“Certainly, we will have representatives from FirstEnergy Local Affairs available to answer questions about the plan,” said company spokesperson Doug Colafella.

“We often have customers attend who have questions or issues that don’t pertain to the hearings, such as billing issues, tree trimming, etc., and our folks can answer those questions as well,” Colafella added.

Also in attendance will be members of environmental and citizen groups who oppose the plan, including the Sierra Club and Ohio Citizen Action.

In addition, a representative from the Office of the Ohio Consumers’ Counsel (OCC) will be at each hearing, confirmed spokesperson Scott Gerfen. OCC is a state agency charged with representing the interests of Ohio’s 4.5 million households in both regulatory proceedings and court cases.

“The hearings are legal proceedings. In that regard, OCC intends to protect consumers’ interests,” Gerfen said.

Ohio Citizen Action and the Sierra Club are members of RE-AMP, which publishes Midwest Energy News.

Kathi is the author of 25 books and more than 600 articles, and writes often on science and policy issues. In addition to her journalism career, Kathi is an alumna of Harvard Law School and has spent 15 years practicing law. She is a member of the Society of Environmental Journalists and the National Association of Science Writers. Kathi covers the state of Ohio.