As happened during a Town Hall Meeting about electric rates in late February, North Ridgeville residents and homeowners from other communities raised the wattage of their collective voices April 21.
They provided testimony to the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio (PUCO) about FirstEnergy’s electric rates during a hearing at the North Ridgeville Education Center.
Last week’s hearing was not supposed to be about the previously disputed – and since temporarily restored – all-electric home discount. Discussion was to focus on the March 23 application filed by FirstEnergy to set its generation rates through a new Electric Security Plan (ESP). Many who attended, however, spoke passionately against the electricity provider.
FirstEnergy wants to expedite by May 5 a PUCO decision on its application. Contained in the document is a delivery capital recovery rider, yielding up to $390 million for FirstEnergy over a span of less than three years. FirstEnergy also wants to switch the company that manages how electricity flows to consumers from the power plants, as well as recover the money it has lost due to an overall decline in energy usage. Those reclaimed revenues could total $100 million. An additional provision in the application would allow FirstEnergy to give certain organizations, like the Cleveland Clinic Foundation, price breaks and charge residential customers for those “economic development and job retention deals,” according to Janine Migden-Ostrander, consumers’ counsel, of the Ohio Consumers’ Counsel. That does not sit well with State Rep. Matt Lundy.
“Why aren’t they (FirstEnergy) making some re-investment themselves, rather than passing the cost to the consumer?” Lundy asked in a Thursday interview. “Why doesn’t FirstEnergy put money on the table? They’re the ones who stand to benefit the most. They simply want the consumers to pay for everything. And I don’t think that’s fair.”
Neither does Mayor Dave Gillock, who feels FirstEnergy “has kind of boxed themselves into a corner,” at least regarding the all-electric home discount issue.
“They’ve granted these discounts for years … and I think FirstEnergy has got to be fair to all of these residents,” Gillock said Friday. “At the same time, they can’t put the financial onus on everybody else. In this economy, we’ve lost sight of the basics of supply and demand. When (big utilities) lose revenues or profits, they then want to raise prices to make up for that. Supply and demand says if your sales go down, your staff goes down, and they’re not doing that anymore. FirstEnergy seems to be almost the leader in that.”
Resident Kevin Corcoran, who is also City Council president, an all-electric home owner and the attorney for Bob Schmitt Homes (which has constructed more than 3,000 all-electric homes in the affected rate territory) said Friday the bigger issue is how FirstEnergy wants to “jam through” the application.
“They have all these riders, (which are) special charges that they could just pass on to consumers without any review,” Corcoran explained. “Beyond asking for a rate increase, they have to justify the reason they need it, and they were essentially trying to short-circuit that process.
“This is an issue that affects every electric rate payer. It will affect the all-electric homeowner the most because they’re the most sensitive to any rate change. But everybody else should be concerned, too.”
FirstEnergy and the PUCO appear to have forfeited their reputation, at least in the eyes of Lundy and Corcoran.
“FirstEnergy has just lost so much credibility with me, and I’m sure with many others, with their reckless behavior of late,” Lundy said. “The process that is in place is established to take the politics out of it. I don’t think it’s been working well lately. The PUCO is too quick to say ‘yes’ to the utility company.”
“I have absolutely no faith in FirstEnergy at all,” Corcoran said. “The process is broken. We would like to see PUCO or FirstEnergy give advance notice of what the cost is going to be to our bills when they, or any utility, is going to make a rate increase.”
North Ridgeville resident Bill Kirk, who has a written complaint already on file with the PUCO, said he is most upset about FirstEnergy’s “broken promises.”
“This is not true capitalism,” Kirk said last week of FirstEnergy’s motives. “We should not be bailing them out. This was a broken promise that was made to Bob Schmitt and all the developers of the all-electric home. I think the windfall profits should be returned (by FirstEnergy to the homeowners).”
PUCO spokesman Matt Butler said Friday no decision has yet been made on FirstEnergy’s request.
“The PUCO’s job is to balance the interests of all the parties, in this case the utility and the customer,” Butler said. “The PUCO staff looks at (the application) first. The five appointed PUCO commissioners are the final decision makers. Remember, this is a proposal; it has not been decided. People are frustrated and I can understand that. We want to hear from people if they have something to say about it.”
Public input, for which Gillock said local homeowners and Corcoran, in particular, have “really taken a leadership
position in keeping this (issue) in front of the PUCO,” can still be provided.
“Our residents have come forward, and they’ve done so sincerely and very respectfully,” Gillock said. “They’re participating in the process, and that’s a good thing.”
Corcoran encouraged people to continue providing feedback.
“Our only leverage is to have people tell them how outraged they are,” Corcoran said. “Where does all this end for us, the consumers?”