As Ohio regulators sit on coal plant subsidy cases, costs could rack up for ratepayers

Ratepayers are getting tiny credits right now, but House Bill 6’s coal plant bailouts have huge net costs. And millions of dollars of those costs were improper, critics argue. This story is a joint project of the nonprofit Energy News Network and Eye on Ohio, the nonprofit, nonpartisan Ohio Center for Journalism. Please join the free mailing lists for Eye on Ohio or the Energy News Network, as this helps provide more public service reporting. Although Ohio regulators have paused four FirstEnergy cases dealing with House Bill 6, they could still take action in cases dealing with the two 1950s-era coal plants that were subsidized by the law at the heart of Ohio’s ongoing corruption scandal. 

Yet the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio has made no rulings in those cases in months.

Six key energy questions that winners of Ohio’s high court races will decide

Several energy and utility questions are likely to come before the Ohio Supreme Court in the next two years, including cases involving coal plant subsidies, HB 6 corruption, and renewable energy project siting. This story is a joint project of the nonprofit Energy News Network and Eye on Ohio, the nonprofit, nonpartisan Ohio Center for Journalism. Please join the free mailing lists for Eye on Ohio or the Energy News Network, as this helps provide more public service reporting. While much of the attention on this year’s races for the Ohio Supreme Court focuses on the state’s six-week abortion ban and gerrymandering, the election also comes with high stakes for state energy policy. Several cases involving power plants, utility oversight, and clean energy development are likely to land before the state’s high court in the next two years.

Special counsel hired to help PUCO with document requests has multiple ties to HB 6 push

Links include an HB 6 co-sponsor, a lobbyist for FirstEnergy’s former subsidiary, and a former partner who served as an officer for Generation Now

This article is provided by Eye on Ohio, the nonprofit, nonpartisan Ohio Center for Journalism, in partnership with the nonprofit Energy News Network. Please join the free mailing lists for Eye on Ohio or the Energy News Network, as this helps provide more public service reporting. An outside law firm working with the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio on responses to federal subpoenas and public records requests has multiple ties to the law at the heart of the state’s ongoing corruption scandal. The firm, Dinsmore & Shohl, is headquartered in Cincinnati and has offices in 30 cities across the United States. The Ohio Attorney General’s Office retained the firm as special counsel for the PUCO after it received the first of two federal subpoenas in the spring of 2021 relating to House Bill 6.

Freeze of regulator’s HB 6 cases could further harm Ohio consumers

A federal prosecutor’s move to stay PUCO cases would thwart investigations behind FirstEnergy’s spending and other matters related to Ohio’s ongoing House Bill 6 corruption scandal. This article is provided by Eye on Ohio, the nonprofit, nonpartisan Ohio Center for Journalism, in partnership with the nonprofit Energy News Network. Please join the free mailing lists for Eye on Ohio or the Energy News Network, as this helps provide more public service reporting. On Tuesday, a federal prosecutor asked to shut down four Ohio regulatory cases relating to Ohio’s House Bill 6 scandal for at least six months. If granted, the request by U.S. Attorney Kenneth Parker of the Southern District of Ohio will further block Ohioans’ ability to learn more about the alleged corruption behind the state’s 2019 nuclear and coal bailout law. 

FirstEnergy admitted last year that it paid nearly $60 million and bribed two Ohio public officials in connection with HB 6, including the former speaker of the Ohio House and a former head of the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio.

Regulators’ foot-dragging on public records hides the full story behind Ohio’s utility corruption scandal

Documents produced at the end of July shed light on Sam Randazzo’s role at the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio. But more documents before and after his tenure still haven’t been produced. This article is provided by Eye on Ohio, the nonprofit, nonpartisan Ohio Center for Journalism, in partnership with the nonprofit Energy News Network. Please join the free mailing lists for Eye on Ohio or the Energy News Network, as this helps provide more public service reporting. Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine knew critics questioned whether the former FirstEnergy nuclear plants really needed House Bill 6’s $1.1 billion bailout.

Giving back? Charities laud Columbia Gas in $212 million rate hike case

Charity groups often depend on utilities for funds to do good works, but rate hikes by those utilities can impose more stress on low-income people the nonprofit groups serve. This article is provided by Eye on Ohio, the nonprofit, nonpartisan Ohio Center for Journalism, in partnership with the nonprofit Energy News Network. Please join the free mailing lists for Eye on Ohioor the Energy News Network, as this helps provide more public service reporting. Central Ohio’s LifeCare Alliance is a lifeline for tens of thousands of seniors and medically challenged residents. The Columbus-based charity delivers meals and healthcare to people who need help staying in their homes due to age or other issues.

Former PUCO chair texted he knew FirstEnergy charge was likely unlawful, but company would keep money anyway

Texts about the $456 million charge may further undermine public confidence in the PUCO. This article is provided by Eye on Ohio, the nonprofit, nonpartisan Ohio Center for Journalism in partnership with the nonprofit Energy News Network. Please join the free mailing lists for Eye on Ohio or the Energy News Network, as this helps provide more public service reporting. Newly disclosed texts from a former head of the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio suggest he knew a grid modernization charge that cost ratepayers nearly half a billion dollars was “likely to be found illegal and could not be refunded.”

Former PUCO Chair Asim Haque and former FirstEnergy Vice President Michael Dowling exchanged text messages on the same day the Supreme Court of Ohio held the charge unlawful. Challengers in the case had argued that the commission’s order imposing the charge basically had no strings attached to make FirstEnergy take any specific actions to modernize the grid.

Dark money helped Ohio utilities subsidize coal plants, delaying climate action at ratepayers’ expense

The biggest corruption scandal in Ohio’s history happened right under people’s noses, and much of the law at its center remains on the books. This story originated from the Energy News Network and Eye on Ohio and is part of ‘Climate & Democracy,’ a series from the global journalism collaboration Covering Climate Now. It has been three years since Ohio lawmakers first introduced the power plant bailout legislation that is now at the heart of the largest corruption case in state history. Since House Bill 6 passed in 2019, an FBI investigation has revealed a $60 million bribery scheme, leading to extensive admissions by FirstEnergy — a utility company central to the scandal — and guilty pleas from three defendants in a federal criminal case. 

Beyond that, though, accountability has been slow to come, and HB 6, which also gutted the state’s clean energy standards, remains on the books. Just as the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s latest report notes how vested interests have blocked progress on climate change mitigation, the HB 6 scandal shows how utility, fossil fuel and nuclear interests have framed Ohio energy policy, even when that policy conflicts with voter preferences on renewable energy.

Ohioans struggle to get help with utility bills

Federal programs exist, but how easy are they to access? Rashidah Abdulhaqq worries her electricity and heat will be shut off. 

These are vital services during normal times, but especially during the winter, and especially when she has a portable oxygen tank she carts around to keep herself alive. Flanked by several windows wrapped in plastic to better insulate her drafty Cleveland home, Abdulhaqq said she’s been trying for almost three months to get an application in for several programs to help her with her utility bills. Struggling with bills? Check out this guide created to help by the Northeast Ohio Solutions Journalism Collaborative and Black Girl Media.