FirstEnergy recently joined American Electric Power (AEP) and Duke Energy in filing a request before the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio (PUCO) – the state agency in charge of keeping utilities in check.
What do these big electric utilities want? They want to increase customers’ bills to prop up their aging coal plants. AEP alone wants to charge customers an estimated $117 million to keep two dirty, expensive coal plants in operation. These plants, which hail from the 1950s, are uncompetitive in the wholesale energy market. But keeping them alive – by asking customers to subsidize this dirty energy – will guarantee continued revenues for FirstEnergy, AEP and Duke on bad investments.
These utilities should not be allowed to force Ohioans to rely more on dirty fossil fuels and pay more for electricity. Coal already generates nearly 70 percent of electricity in Ohio, spewing asthma-inducing pollutants (four cities in Ohio are ranked among the 20 most polluted in the country) while contributing to climate disruption. Ohio is experiencing record-breaking extreme weather, and approximately 80 percent of the state’s counties face higher risks of water shortages by mid-century due to climate change.
And this is merely the insult. The injury? In June, the Ohio General Assembly passed a new law, for which FirstEnergy lobbied relentlessly, gutting the state’s renewable energy and energy efficiency standards.
The legislative action came on the heels of a federal proposal to cut carbon from our power sector – a critical step to addressing climate change. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Clean Power Plan proposes a 28 percent emission reduction target by 2030 for Ohio. This proposal allows the states to develop its own carbon emissions reduction plans using a menu of possible compliance methods, including increased energy efficiency and renewable energy. In fact, energy efficiency is the cheapest and most effective way to reduce carbon and lower consumers’ electricity bills. Using energy efficiency as a core compliance strategy could save Ohio households $33 million a month, or $399 million annually, on their electricity bills.
In late July, the EPA held hearings on the proposal in Atlanta, Denver, Pittsburgh and Washington, D.C. Scores of Ohioans caravanned to the hearing in Pittsburgh to speak in support of the proposal, testifying about the effects of dirty power plants on their lives. Citizens called on the EPA to enact the proposed carbon standards to clean up and modernize their power plants. At the hearing in Pittsburgh, those in support of cutting carbon pollution outnumbered those in opposition 4 to 1.
Meanwhile, Ohio utilities are calling on the PUCO to go back in time and prop up their dirty coal plants on our dime. It’s time to move forward, not backward. American consumers deserve clean, safe and affordable energy. To this end, Ohio decision-makers have failed, but regulators can still protect consumers from being on the hook for costly dirty energy.
Allison Fisher is the Outreach Director for Public Citizen’s Climate and Energy Program. Public Citizen is a national non-profit organization that has been advocating for consumer rights for over 40 years.