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Protests greet FirstEnergy rate request hearings

COLUMBUS — A small group of protesters on Monday marked the start of hearings on FirstEnergy’s rate request designed to lock in a 15-year market for power generated by a pair of its subsidiary’s plants even if they don’t offer the best price for customers.

The Public Utilities Commission of Ohio already has said “no” to similar proposals from American Electric Power and Duke Energy. Hearings on the request from Toledo Edison’s Akron-based parent are expected to last into October.

The hearings take place against a shifting energy landscape of low natural gas prices because of shale hydraulic fracturing, proposed federal environmental regulations targeting coal plant emissions, and Ohio’s hesitation to implement its own mandate that utilities buy more of their power from renewable sources such as wind and solar.

The roughly 20 protesters outside the downtown Columbus office building where the PUCO meets want to see the immediate closing of Davis-Besse nuclear plant in Ottawa County, for which FirstEnergy is seeking a 20-year license extension from the federal government.

They also want to see a phaseout of operations for the W.H. Sammis coal-fired plant near Steubenville on the Ohio River.

In related news, PUCO: Not ready for FirstEnergy’s electrical security plan hearing.

“We want a phaseout from fossil fuels. There’s no middle ground on nuclear power,” said Harvey Wasserman. He teaches history at Columbus State College and Capital University and is a member of Greenpeace.

He argued that renewable sources, particularly wind and solar, have reached the point where they can be relied on to supply Ohio’s power. FirstEnergy counters that traditional plants are still necessary to ensure reliable power.

FirstEnergy spokesman Doug Colafella said the utility’s customers would get credits against their bills whenever power purchased from the plants draws more on the competitive market than it cost to produce. But when the opposite occurs, customers would see riders on their bills to make up the difference.

“The plan will also help preserve key power plants in Ohio that play a vital role serving customers and keeping energy prices stable,” he said. “The plants, including the W.H. Sammis Plant and the Davis-Besse Nuclear Power Station, are also major economic drivers in our region that provide thousands of jobs and vital tax revenue for local communities.

“FirstEnergy takes its obligation to serve customers with affordable, reliable power seriously,” Mr. Colafella said. “Recent extreme weather events have proven that a diverse supply of power generating sources, including scrubbed coal and nuclear plants that can run around the clock, is essential to our security and economic prosperity.”

FirstEnergy concedes its plan could cost customers $400 million more for the first few years of the plan, but it predicts customers will come out $2 billion ahead in the long run. But the Ohio Consumers’ Counsel has predicted a $3 billion long-term price tag for consumers.

Neil Waggoner, of the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal Campaign, said the PUCO’s precedent for AEP and Duke should serve as a blueprint in this case.

“It’s an even bigger rate hike, and it involves plants that are fully owned by FirstEnergy’s generation subsidiary …,” he said. “I think it can be a blueprint in that the commission has already indicated in what AEP and Duke tried to do here by increasing rates to bail out unproductive plants. Based on that argument, the commission will and should reject FirstEnergy’s argument as well.”

Contact Jim Provance at: jprovance@theblade.com or 614-221-0496.

This article was written by Jim Provance from The Blade and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.

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