Midwest Energy News: ELPC Questions FirstEnergy’s Withholding of Documents, More Opposing Voices Join the Chorus

That proposal followed a commitment made two weeks ago by Chicago-based Exelon Corporation to provide the same amount of energy for $2 billion less with resources whose emissions would be 100 percent carbon-free.

“Dynegy agrees with Exelon that this process should be competitive,” Dynegy president and CEO Robert Flexon said in a prepared statement when his company’s plan was announced on Tuesday.

“We believe the counter-proposals are uniformly better for Ohio consumers and businesses than the AEP and FirstEnergy [plans], keeping and creating jobs in the state that stimulate economic growth and development rather than weakening Ohio’s competitive position,” Flexon added. “We ask for serious consideration from the PUCO and Ohio elected and state officials for our proposals.”

Meanwhile, additional information questioning the plan has been produced and filed by grid operator PJM Interconnection.

“The business case against the bailout has become particularly stronger” as a result, said Dick Munson of the Environmental Defense Fund, which also opposes FirstEnergy’s plan.

Limited information

FirstEnergy’s revised plan would have its regulated utilities buy all the output from the Davis-Besse nuclear plant, the W.H. Sammis coal plant, and FirstEnergy’s share of power from two 1950’s era coal plants.

The utilities would resell the electricity in the competitive market, and distribution customers would pay any shortfall or get a credit for the difference between the resale price and the contract price. That price includes a guaranteed rate of return for FirstEnergy Solutions.

The proposed settlement that was filed last month would shorten the term to eight years instead of the original 15. Yet even the revised plan would boost a typical residential customer’s bill as much as $130 per year, according to the Office of the Ohio Consumer’s Counsel (OCC).

The settlement “taken as a whole, does not provide a net benefit to customers, is not in the public interest, and should be rejected by the PUCO,” said expert witness Matthew Kahal in supplemental testimony filed on December 30.

Under the settlement, FirstEnergy would also assume a small share of the potential downside to consumers, reinstate the energy efficiency programs it suspended after 2014, and make other changes.

Critics say some of those provisions could lead to additional changes that would increase consumers’ costs. One example is a section that would raise the fixed costshare of the bill for electricity distribution and could also discourage energy efficiency.

Similar concern focuses on provisions in the settlement for grid modernization.

Some programs that fall into that general category “may have benefits for customers,” said Rob Kelter of the Environmental Law & Policy Center (ELPC), which is among the parties who oppose the settlement. “But there’s also a lot of expense involved.”

Yet FirstEnergy has refused to produce documents about the details of the plans for grid modernization. The company claims no final versions exist and says any drafts are protected as attorney work product. It has also refused to provide supporting materials sought in follow-up requests, saying those were too broad or came later.

“Their plan may not be final yet, but we want documents that indicate what they intend to do. And that’s what discovery is all about,” Kelter said. “You don’t get to pick and choose what you want to give up to the other side.”

The big concern is that approval of the settlement might later be interpreted as “some type of preliminary permission” for whatever FirstEnergy might later submit—without the benefit of a full review beforehand, Kelter explained.

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Columbus Dispatch: AEP profit-guarantee case, who’s in and who’s out

American Electric Power has 10 allies in its proposal for a profit-guarantee for certain coal-fired power plants, while 11 parties have said they will fight the plan, and a key player has chosen not to participate.

This sets up a battle that looks like a family feud. Each side includes energy companies, consumer advocates and environmental groups.

They will square off next month in a hearing, and in filings with the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio.

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Howard Joins WBEZ’s Worldview to Discuss Paris Climate Agreement

Monday afternoon, Howard Learner joined Jerome McDonnell on WBEZ’s global affairs program Worldview to discuss what the COP21 agreement reached in Paris means to efforts to address climate change. You can listen to the broadcast below.

Crain’s Cleveland Applauds PUCO for Putting the Brakes on FirstEnergy Deal

The Public Utilities Commission of Ohio should be applauded for putting the brakes on a proposed settlement plan with FirstEnergy Corp. that would leave ratepayers footing the bill for the utility’s plan to keep a handful of antiquated power plants online.

A PUCO administrative judge last Wednesday, Dec. 9, ruled that more hearings are needed on a long-negotiated plan that would guarantee ratepayer-funded subsidies to keep aging, inefficient and costly coal and nuclear plants operating. More hearings are needed, and common sense must prevail.

FirstEnergy says ratepayers would pay more for their electricity initially — about $3.25 a month for residential customers — but would save money later on, leading to a total cost savings of $560 million. The Ohio Consumers’ Counsel, however, says the plan could cost consumers up to $3.9 billion.

When FirstEnergy advocated deregulation almost two decades ago, coal-fired plants provided electricity for consumers and still generated a profit when FirstEnergy sold it on the regional grid.

Low-price natural gas has changed that. Coal-fired power plants now are more expensive to run and can’t compete on price with natural gas. FirstEnergy argues that natural gas prices won’t always be so low, which is why it wants to keep the coal and nuclear plants operating, so that they will still be available when natural gas prices go up. And its promise of consumer savings is predicated on coal-fired power being cheaper than natural gas down the line.

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The Columbus Dispatch: ELPC Blows the Whistle on FirstEnergy Power Plant Deal

A newly disclosed settlement proposal in a long-running FirstEnergy case says the company would receive an eight-year profit guarantee for certain Ohio power plants and would restore some of the clean-energy programs that the company had eliminated.

The Akron-based utility reached the agreement with the Public Utilities of Ohio staff and more than a dozen other parties, including the consumer group Ohio Partners for Affordable Energy, but was unable to get support from other key parties such as the Sierra Club, the Office of the Ohio Consumers’ Counsel and others.

The next step is a new round of litigation in which sides will present cases for and against the proposal.

Meanwhile, many of the same participants are working on a potential plan with American Electric Power that deals with similar issues. The sides are meeting this morning and there is no update on a potential timetable for an AEP deal.

“The proposed settlement is expected to deliver significant benefits to customers, protect thousands of family-sustaining jobs and vital tax revenues in Ohio communities, and provide for a cleaner energy future,” said Chuck Jones, FirstEnergy’s president and CEO in a statement.

The company says consumers will see an initial increase in electricity bills of a few dollars per month, followed by a net savings in bills in the later years of the agreement, leading to a net decrease of $560 million over the eight-year term. Opponents say these numbers are incorrect and that there are no financial benefits for consumers.

“This is one of the worst backroom deals in the history of utility regulation,” said Rob Kelter, an attorney for the Environmental Law and Policy Center, in an e-mail. “The PUCO staff has cut a deal with FirstEnergy that will prop up uneconomic coal and nuclear plants that can’t compete in the competitive market, the very market that FirstEnergy itself touted when competition benefitted the company.”

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Circle of Blue: ELPC’s Madeline Fleisher Warns Tougher Regs Needed for Great Lakes to Avoid More Algae Bloom Disasters

After years of watching their state do little to address stormwater runoff, polluted wells, and noxious algae blooms in once clear waters, 16 Wisconsin citizens last month decided enough was enough. They filed a petition with the federal Environmental Protection Agency to force Wisconsin to correct failures in its clean water program or else take away Wisconsin’s authority to administer permits under the Clean Water Act.

It is a step of last resort expressing an utter lack of confidence in the state government’s ability and desire to protect its waterways.

The past two decades have seen the dismantling of the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, the state agency in charge of issuing and enforcing clean water regulations, according to Kim Wright, executive director of Midwest Environmental Advocates. The agency’s workforce has declined 18 percent since 1995. Last summer Republican Governor Scott Walker abolished the agency’s water division and its Bureau of Science Services while eliminating 18 staff positions.

Midwest Environmental Advocates, a Madison-based nonprofit law center, filed the petition for corrective action on behalf of the 16 individual citizens. The budget and staff cuts, and other changes, seriously harmed the agency’s ability to protect water, according to the petition, which also references a 2011 letter from the EPA that outlined problems within the state’s Clean Water Act programs.

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The Columbus Dispatch: Commission Lets States Decide Ohio River Mercury Tests

States along the Ohio River will decide how and where companies test to determine how much mercury they release into the waterway, according to a decision by the multistate commission overseeing the river’s health.

Thursday’s decision means there will be no single, comprehensive plan for testing how much mercury polluters release into the river.

The Ohio River Valley Water Sanitation Commission, whose members represent eight states and set pollution standards for the river, said in a statement that the decision would not increase the amount of mercury in the river.

Environmental-advocacy groups disagree.

“I think it leaves the door open for there to be more mercury going in,” said Madeline Fleisher, an Ohio-based lawyer with the Environmental Law and Policy Center, who attended the commission’s hearing in Buffalo on Thursday.

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Associated Press: Ohio River Mercury Tests Left up to States


October 9, 2015

Ohio River Mercury Tests Left up to States

By The Associated Press

COLUMBUS, OHIO — In a story Oct. 9 about testing for mercury in the Ohio River, The Associated Press erroneously identified an environmental group. It is the Environmental Law and Policy Center, not the Environmental Law and Poverty Center.

A corrected version of the story is below:

States to determine Ohio River mercury testing, panel says.

Decisions on Ohio River mercury testing will be left to states; advocates fear more pollution

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — A commission monitoring pollution in the Ohio River says testing for mercury released into the water will be determined on a state-by-state basis rather than a comprehensive plan.

The multistate Ohio River Valley Water Sanitation Commission decided Thursday that states along the waterway will decide where and how companies do testing to gauge discharged mercury, The Columbus Dispatch reported.

The panel’s decision in effect nixed a 2003 commission ruling to force companies to test for mercury at discharge pipes, where the concentration would be the highest. This month was the deadline for companies to comply with the 2003 ruling.

But the commission gave assurances Thursday that the decision won’t result in increasing levels of mercury, a neurotoxin, in the river and its tributaries. Environmental advocates disagreed.

“I think it leaves the door open for there to be more mercury going in,” said Madeline Fleisher, an Ohio-based lawyer with the Environmental Law and Policy Center.

Mercury has been pumped into the water for years from steel factories, coal-fired power plants and other sources, and can make fish unsafe to eat. The amounts of mercury released are subject to regulatory limits based on tests by the companies, which sometimes do their testing in places where pollution is diluted.

Some states along the waterway, including Ohio, give permission to companies to exceed the federally regulated mercury dumping limit.

“We’re not going to clean up the entire river tomorrow, but you have to take steps in the right direction, and I don’t think this is in the right direction,” Fleisher said. “At the very least, it’s standing still when we should be moving forward.”

WDRB: Ohio River water quality commission punts on tougher mercury rule

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – An agency overseeing the Ohio River’s water quality won’t enforce new mercury rules set to start this month, despite the objections of clean water advocates.

At issue are so-called “mixing zones” that allow older industries to take mercury readings farther away from the point of release — thereby exceeding current pollution standards.

At a meeting in Buffalo, N.Y., the eight-state Ohio River Valley Water Sanitation Commission voted to scrap a ban on so-called “mixing zones” that was to take effect Oct. 16, according to a news release. Companies had been given a decade to prepare for the ban, which would have required them to measure mercury discharges at the “end of pipe.”

The commission – known as ORSANCO – said it still wants to eliminate the mixing zones. But it said decisions allowing companies to use the zones now will be made by state officials and be “subject to more formal opportunities for public comment and judicial review of the permitting decision.”

ORSANCO noted in its release that companies that began discharging mercury and 21 other “chemicals of concern” since 2003 still can’t use the mixing zones.

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