Following legal scandal, Ohio utility companies try to raise costs — again

By: - July 11, 2023 4:45 am

Natural gas meter with pipe on wall. Getty Images.

Ohio utility companies are at it again — trying to get ratepayers to fund their ventures with little oversight.

However, the latest attempt was foiled by Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine.

Summer sun brought in major spikes in utility costs, but so did the state’s approval of distributors’ requests to raise charges.

“Folks paying their electric bills right now are really, really hurting,” said Nolan Rutschilling with the Ohio Environmental Council Action Fund.

A proposal in the state budget would have made them go even higher.

Under current law, ratepayers are already charged for economic development projects. A provision in the budget would have allowed the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio (PUCO) to authorize companies to increase charges to millions of consumers for those same projects.

“This would have effectively allowed the utilities to double dip on folks’ money to fund infrastructure,” Rutschilling said.

These subsidies come without adequate protections for consumers, the Ohio Consumers’ Counsel warned Statehouse lawmakers repeatedly.

But with the swipe of his pen, DeWine vetoed the legislation, preventing Ohioans from being charged twice.

“This, frankly, put too much power in their hands to make those determinations,” DeWine said about PUCO and utilities during a press conference Wednesday.

Development is important, DeWine argued, but the PUCO and companies shouldn’t get to decide these types of increases. There is another way of doing this, he added.

“We want them to be able to build out where they need to build out,” the governor added. “This, frankly, put it directly in their hands to make those determinations. We think, frankly, that should be more of a state position when we see what is going on and where that need that is.”

Although happy about this, Rutschilling says Dewine is leaving the door open for utilities to still take advantage of consumers.

Ohioans are still dealing with the aftermath of the House Bill 6 scandal, where utility companies bribed Statehouse leaders to give them bailouts.

That disgrace was covered extensively by OCJ/WEWS, which followed the legislation all the way through the Statehouse, the arrests, trial, conviction and sentencing of former Ohio House Speaker Larry Householder.

H.B. 6 mainly benefited FirstEnergy’s struggling nuclear power plants, which provisions were later repealed. There are remaining aspects of the bill still in place, though.

The Ohio Valley Electric Corporation (OVEC) also got a handout from the scandal. It expanded a bailout of the OVEC plants and required Ohioans to pay for them. The main beneficiaries from this were American Electric Power Company (AEP), Duke Energy and AES Ohio.

FirstEnergy, AEP, Duke and AES would all benefit from the now-vetoed provision.

“The electric utilities are still trying whatever they can to get ratepayers to subsidize things that they should be paying for,” Rutschilling added.

OCJ/WEWS reached out to the electric companies who pushed for this and to the PUCO.

Scott Blake, the spokesperson for AEP, responded. He, however, did not address the veto:

“AEP Ohio has played a critical role in attracting new companies to our state and helping businesses expand. The All Ohio Future Fund continues to make funding available for economic development activities. We look forward to our continued partnerships with state and local economic development agencies through this program and others.”

PUCO Spokesperson Matt Schilling also replied:

“Generally speaking, the PUCO takes great care to carefully review utilities’ applications to increase rates when fulfilling our mission to assure all residential and business consumers access to adequate, safe and reliable utility services at fair prices, while facilitating an environment that provides competitive choices.'”

This article was originally published on and is published in the Ohio Capital Journal under a content-sharing agreement. Unlike other OCJ articles, it is not available for free republication by other news outlets as it is owned by WEWS in Cleveland.



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Morgan Trau
Morgan Trau

Morgan Trau is a political reporter and multimedia journalist based out of the WEWS Columbus Bureau. A graduate of Syracuse University’s S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications, Trau has previously worked as an investigative, political and fact-checking reporter in Grand Rapids, Mich. at WZZM-TV; a reporter and MMJ in Spokane, Wash. at KREM-TV and has interned at 60 Minutes and worked for CBS Interactive and PBS NewsHour.