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Consumer Watchdog Seeks Probe of How FirstEnergy Spent Ratepayer Money

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DW Keefer's picture
Journalist Independent Journalist and Analyst

DW Keefer is a Denver-based energy journalist who writes extensively for national and international publications on all forms of electric power generation, utility regulation, business models...

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  • Sep 14, 2020

The Office of Ohio Consumers’ Counsel filed paperwork with the Public Utilities Commission in early September in an effort to learn where FirstEnergy got the $60 million that federal prosecutors say was part of the largest bribery scandal in Ohio history.

The filed motions include:

  • A request for an investigation and a management audit of FirstEnergy.
  • A requirement that the company show that it hadn’t misused consumer money to support the passage of a nuclear bailout.
  • A reopening of a probe into how FirstEnergy spent money intended to upgrade the electricity grid.

In July, the U.S. Attorney’s office charged then-House Speaker Larry Householder in an alleged scheme to funnel FirstEnergy money through “dark money” groups in an effort to elect supportive lawmakers and make Householder speaker.

The charges allege that the goal was to pass a $1.3 billion bailout, known as House Bill 6, that largely went to two nuclear power plants, but also aided two coal-powered power plants.

In its filing, the consumers’ counsel said it was asking the utilities commission to do its job.

“The (Public Utilities Commission of Ohio) has the right and duty to regulate public utilities, for the protection of the public,” it said. “The PUCO should require FirstEnergy to show that money it collected from consumers, including the distribution modernization charge money, was not improperly used regarding House Bill 6 and that it did not violate any utility regulatory laws or PUCO orders regarding House Bill 6.”

A FirstEnergy spokeswoman was quoted in local news reports as saying that the company will respond to the motion as required.

In its filings, the consumers’ counsel focused on $465 million FirstEnergy was allowed to collect from Ohio ratepayers in 2017 and 2018 as a “distribution modernization rider.” The rider was meant to fund distribution system improvements in Ohio.

The consumers’ counsel pointed to an independent audit showing that at least some of the money was used for other purposes. For example, it was placed in FirstEnergy’s “Regulated Utility Money Pool,” where its out-of-state utilities could borrow from it.

The utilities commission reportedly shut down an investigation into the extra charge and how the money was used. In its filing, the consumers’ counsel says the inquiry “should be reopened in light of the new information alleged in the U.S. Criminal Complaint about FirstEnergy’s use of extraordinary amounts of money in its efforts for the passage of House Bill 6.”

After other parties respond to the consumers’ counsel motions the utilities commission will decide whether to approve them.


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