A 4-3 majority on the Ohio Supreme Court this week sided with consumers in striking down hundreds of millions in additional charges that the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio had allowed FirstEnergy to assess Ohio families for the past two years.
Justice Sharon Kennedy, who is seeking re-election in 2020, sided with the minority on FirstEnergy’s side against consumers. This shocked exactly nobody, as the utility industry has given more than $50,000 in campaign contributions to Kennedy.
Ohio’s two new justices, Michael Donnelly and Melody Stewart, meanwhile, sided with consumers.
In the decision, the court ruled that the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio (PUCO) must remove the Distribution Modernization Rider (DMR) from FirstEnergy’s Electric Security Plan.
Through Rider DMR, the PUCO awarded $204 million per year for three years to FirstEnergy, with the stated intent that FirstEnergy invest in grid modernization projects.
The Ohio Environmental Council, along with the Environmental Defense Fund, Environmental Law & Policy Center, and a host of other environmental and consumer advocates, challenged Rider DMR, arguing that it was nothing more than a credit support rider for FirstEnergy with zero conditions requiring FirstEnergy to actually use any amount of the funds for grid modernization.
In essence, Rider DMR was just another bailout for FirstEnergy on the backs of their customers under the guise of grid modernization.
“We applaud the Supreme Court of Ohio for protecting Ohioans from unjustified charges on their bills. The Court’s determination that Rider DMR was ‘unlawful and unreasonable’ is a huge win for FirstEnergy customers, who have been required time and time again to pay for FirstEnergy’s poor business decisions,” said the OEC’s Miranda Leppla, vice president of energy policy and lead energy counsel.
Leppla said that the court is correct that “wishful thinking cannot take the place of real requirements, restrictions, or conditions” on the use of the Distribution Modernization Rider funds.
She said the OEC is pleased that FirstEnergy customers will not be forced to pay this type of improper charge moving forward.
“This decision is timely and relevant for state decision makers who are currently debating yet another request for a corporate handout by FirstEnergy. It should serve as a cautionary tale that granting free money with no strings attached is unlawful, unreasonable, and unjust,” Leppla said.
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