COLUMBUS (AP) — Ohio utility regulators plan votes Thursday on two proposed energy deals that have drawn national attention from consumer, business, energy and environmental groups.
The power purchase agreements were submitted separately in December by Akron-based FirstEnergy and Columbus-based AEP. Both ask regulators to permit rate increases over the next eight years to subsidize certain aging coal-fired and nuclear plants, modernize the power grid, reduce carbon emissions and guarantee profits.
The Ohio Consumers’ Counsel estimates the settlements would cost consumers $5.9 billion combined over the duration. Some money from rate hikes will be rebated to customers later.
Members of the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio must weigh competing arguments from the companies and their critics.
Opponents include an alliance of alternative energy providers, the Ohio Environmental Council, the Ohio Manufacturers’ Association and AARP. They paint the rate plans as utility bailouts that flout Ohio’s decision to deregulate its electricity market and force power companies to compete on an open market.
The companies and their allies — including, in AEP’s case, the pro-environment Sierra Club — argue the proposals will protect jobs, guarantee safe, clean and reliable electricity and aid in the expensive transition to cleaner energy.
The deals have attracted mountains of written testimony, websites, email-writing campaigns and sparring in television ads. That’s because they follow an old model at a time of sweeping change in the U.S. energy market that consumer groups believe should be driving prices down, not up, and forcing coal-fired plants to close.
AEP defends its plants as efficient and environmentally effective and the Sierra Club supported the AEP plan because it likes the environmental pledges it contains.
FirstEnergy’s plan faces more widespread pushback than AEP’s. Critics include the world’s largest steel, appliance and chemical companies. The company projects the plan would raise average monthly electric bills $3.25 the first year, but eventually deliver customers rebates totaling $560 million.
Regulators will take separate votes on the two plans.