Concerns about the outsized influence of utility and fossil fuel interests have resurfaced as the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio begins steps to name a new commissioner after the sudden exit of Chair Sam Randazzo.
Randazzo resigned on Nov. 20 after an FBI team had searched his home and FirstEnergy released a mandatory quarterly report to the Securities and Exchange Commission. The report showed the company paid $4 million to an entity associated with Randazzo shortly before his appointment last year.
Now the Public Utilities Commission, or PUCO, has put out a call for applicants to fill the vacancy. Under Ohio law, a nominating council will review the applications and then nominate four candidates to the governor. Advocates have criticized the council, which only has one seat for a consumer advocate, as being too heavily tilted toward utility interests.
Regulators are requiring FirstEnergy to show that its Ohio utility ratepayers didn’t foot the bill, “directly or indirectly,” for political or charitable spending in support of the state’s nuclear and coal bailout bill. Yet that order is much more lenient than the state’s official consumer advocate had sought.
Questions about possible improprieties arose after former House Speaker Larry Householder, R-Glenford, was arrested on July 21. That case involves an alleged criminal conspiracy by him and others to pass House Bill 6 last year and then to defend it against a citizens’ referendum. The federal complaint and indictment allege that the defendants received approximately $60 million from “Company A” — apparently FirstEnergy — and its subsidiaries and affiliates.
A bill to repeal Ohio’s nuclear bailout law has languished for more than a month so far, and signs suggest that House leadership may be angling to defer or stop such efforts as Election Day draws near. Lawmakers filed repeal bills soon after the arrest of former speaker Larry Householder (R-Glenford) and others in July.
Starting in January, House Bill 6 will require ratepayers to pay approximately $1 billion over the course of six years for subsidies that FirstEnergy had sought for two Ohio nuclear plants. Yet more is at stake, even beyond the $7 average increase in monthly energy spending that some advocates forecast as a result of the law.