Public Policy Research Education and Advocacy
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE Contact: David Hughes
March 22, 2001 412/421-6072
PITTSBURGH, March 22/PRNewswire/—The Ohio Supreme Court’s decision yesterday to dismiss Citizen Power’s appeal without a hearing is a travesty, according to David Hughes, Executive Director of the consumer and environmental watchdog organization.
Citizen Power was appealing the Public Utility Commission of Ohio’s (PUCO) July 19, 2000 decision approving FirstEnergy’s transition plan. “The FirstEnergy competition plan is seriously flawed,” stated Hughes. “If anyone doubts that, just try and pick a supplier in the FirstEnergy service territory other than FirstEnergy.”
Citizen Power was protesting several aspects of the FirstEnergy transition plan, in particular, the PUCO decision to let FirstEnergy count as a competitive switch, customers who switch to FirstEnergy’s wholly owned subsidiary, First Energy Services. “Counting these internal switches will enable FirstEnergy to easily reach the 20% switching standard set by the legislature as a measurement of competition,” Hughes continued.
If 20% of customers switch to another supplier, FirstEnergy will not have to reduce the amount of “stranded costs” or transition charges it can recover. In other words, FirstEnergy will be able to keep all of the $8.7 billion PUCO is requiring the utility’s ratepayers to pay the company for past investments, mostly nuclear plant construction costs.
Harvey Reiter, Citizen Power’s attorney, said that it was particularly unhelpful not to be given an explanation as to why the court dismissed the appeal. “By the PUCO’s own account, electric deregulation was one of the most important actions it has ever taken, and to have this appeal dismissed without a hearing, or even a written opinion, was extraordinarily disappointing,” said Reiter.
The case was apparently dismissed on a technicality as a result of Citizen Power faxing a rehearing request to the PUCO. The PUCO judge in the FirstEnergy case asked parties to help expedite the process by faxing and emailing filings. All parties did that throughout the 8-month case. “The PUCO judge and all parties had our rehearing request on time by email and fax, and a hard copy was filed at the PUCO the next day. For the PUCO and the court to deny a hearing on this important case due to a discretionary PUCO rule that says you can’t fax a rehearing request is really perplexing,” said Reiter.
“Competition was supposed to provide choices and reduce customer bills,” said David Hughes. “Thanks to those appointed and elected to protect us, FirstEnergy got its $9 billion bailout and ratepayers got a new bill format. So much for democracy and fair play in Ohio,” concluded Hughes.