solar_panel2-200x150In November, we told you that John Kasich was quietly transforming the Ohio Public Utilities Commission into a pro-utility, anti-consumer corporate shill – with the transformation nearly complete.  This week we saw the fruits of his efforts as the governing board of PUCO ignored the advice of its own staff in ruling 3-1 to block progress on “Turning Point”, which was to be the largest solar array installation east of the Mississippi.

The deal was first announced by Governor Ted Strickland in 2010 and was not only a way to continue to reclaim strip-mined land in the area around The Wilds wildlife conservation center just south-east of Zanesville, but to create jobs in Noble County.  Noble County currently ranks in the top ten for unemployment in the state at 9.3%.  Developers said there would be 300 construction jobs created and 300 permanent jobs created, some earmarked for returning military veterans.

Though AEP entered into a memorandum of understanding to purchase energy from the facility for 20 years, PUCO staff argued that this was not an exclusive agreement and power could be generated for sale to others, including FirstEnergy who was the primary opponent to the facility in the brief.

In a brief dated May 4, 2012, PUCO staff primarily responded to FirstEnergy objections to the plan.  In the brief they mention the requirement for utilities to generate more power from alternative energy sources.  In 2008, Ohio passed a law (4928.64) that require utilities to generate from alternative sources 25% of the energy they sell by 2025.  Turning Point, obviously, was seen as a step in this direction required by Ohio law.

FirstEnergy, an AEP rival, made several arguments about the project that the staff of PUCO apparently found very unconvincing.  They were joined by the Industrial Energy Users Ohio (IEU), a  group that represents some large manufacturers but often finds itself at odds with the Ohio Manufacturers’ Association on matters of energy policy. IEU is run by attorney Sam Randazzo who earned his nickname, the Randazzler, for his over-the-top commentary that is seldom fact based.  He told a Columbus newspaper that Turning Point “had all the trappings of a political stunt to begin with.’’

PUCO staff showed its view of IEU by openly mocking it in their brief:

The newspaper articles were properly excluded. Relying on newspaper reports has shortcomings. We all know Dewey did not defeat Truman and we know that there is no nuclear power plant under construction at Piketon despite newspaper coverage to the contrary. Even assuming that the reports correctly reflect thinking at the time of printing, decisions change, plans are altered or postponed. The examiner’s ruling was a sensible way to keep the hearing focused on what is real or certain. (Examiner)

PUCO staff concluded:

Fundamentally, it is clear that additional solar capacity is needed in Ohio to comply with the General Assembly’s mandates. Someone must build. Construction of solar  facilities in Ohio is needed by any definition of the word. AEP has announced a plan to do so, Turning Point. That the Turning Point project is needed in this sense is obvious. FirstEnergy and lEU would however have this Commission ignore the only tangible, real  proposal to deal with the shortfall in Ohio sRECs. Instead, FirstEnergy and IEU would  have this Commission rely on the speculation that someone unknown will at some unknown place and time build enough solar capacity to meet the need. The record  reveals no commitment from anyone else to construct anything else. While it may be fine  for FirstEnergy and lEU to rely on hope, this Commission should rely on evidence and the evidence shows that Turning Point is needed. The Commission should so find.

3 of the 4 PUCO commissioners – all Republicans – disagreed and ignored the informed advice of staff.

Kasich mouthpiece Rob Nichols, in a statement to a newspaper in Columbus said “We respect the independence of the commission, and its decision today had nothing to do with us.”   Sounds good, but when you realize the makeup of the PUCO is now solidly in Kaisch’s GOP corner you can’t help but wonder what this decision belies.  Below is the current make up of the commission.  You be the judge.

Chairman Todd A. Snitchler (R) – Appointed by John Kasich, March 2011.  Former Republican member of the Ohio House representing District 50 (2009-2011).  Irony alert!  Todd served on the Alternative Energy Committee.  He is, as we told you in November, also a former FirstEnergy intern.

Commissioner Steven D. Lesser (D) – Appointed by Ted Strickland, 2010.  Began PUCO career in 1979.  A Democrat, Lesser played a critical role in the implementation of the new electric regulation bill and the “green” rules which encourage the development of alternative energy and energy efficiency in Ohio.

Commissioner Andre T. Porter (R) – Appointed by John Kasich in 2011.  Prior to PUCO, Andre was an attorney at the law firm of Schottenstein Zox & Dunn in Columbus, Ohio which is now known as Ice Miller, LLP.  Also a Republican.  When appointed, Porter said “his No. 1 goal is to create jobs in the state and to have safe utilities.” (ABJ)

Commissioner Lynn Slaby (R) – Appointed by John Kasich in 2012.  Former Summit County prosecutor and 9th District Court of Appeals judge.  A first term GOP state representative when he was appointed, his replacement in the house was…wait for it…his wife, who was twice appointed to the office before finally winning a general election in 2012 with 54.55% of the vote.

By law, the commission can have no more than 3 members of any one political party.  3 out of 4 ain’t bad…especially when you get your 3-1 vote.  The Ohio Democratic Party also noted in an email about the issue that FirstEnergy and it’s employees have donated more than $100,000 to Kasich and Republicans over the past four years.

Yep.  Nothing to see here.  Move along.

Instead of getting Turning Point, we’re at a turning point and it’s not good for Ohio energy consumers, environmental advocates, or the new Ohio economy.  Remember, this is the “jobs governor”.

UPDATE: As Innovation Ohio points out , Kasich’s claim not to get involved in PUCO is false.  He did exactly that when an unpopular AEP case came before the commission that would have raised rates for small business owners.  So why not now when it could create hundreds of jobs?