Consumers need to be heard on state energy legislation
Recent news has reported on Ohio's pending energy policy legislation, Senate Bill 221. As Ohio's Consumers' Counsel, the state's residential utility consumer advocate, we have recommended needed changes that would provide protections and safeguards for the state's 4.5 million households.
Under this proposed legislation, consumers could potentially pay billions of dollars over the long run without the assurance that electric utilities' costs are justified in a full hearing. The OCC recommends the following changes be considered by the Ohio House of Representatives, who is currently considering Senate Bill 221.
First, the legislation should protect consumers by ensuring that a side-byside comparison is performed of rates the utilities would be able to charge under the hybrid quasi-regulated "electric security plan" - which would include the current rates plus the potential for very significantfuture increases in overall generation costs - and the "market rate option," with the least cost option selected.
Unless Senate Bill 221 incorporates the flexibility to provide the lowest cost electricity to each utility's customers, residents in some parts of Ohio will win while others will pay more than they should.
Second, all costs should be justified by a utility before rate increases are allowed. We need a process such that any utilityproposed increase is investigated through a process fair to consumers. There should be audits of these costs to verify that they are accurate, reasonable and prudent. Utility customers who pay the bills should be entitled to the same level of accountability as the utility shareholders.
Finally, there should be more done to enhance the use of energy efficiency technology and renewable energy. Energy efficiency technology is far less expensive than constructing new power plants. Renewable energy can help stabilize prices over the long term and some resources are competitive with and less costly than advanced technologies such as nuclear and clean coal. We need stronger standards, benchmarks and penalties to ensure that progress is made in these areas.
Residential consumers can, and should, take action to make a difference. They can contact their state representative to let them know the importance of these consumer protections and safeguards. More information is available from the Consumers' Counsel at www.pickocc. org/energypolicy or by calling 1-877- PICK-OCC (1-877-742-5622). Janine Migden-Ostrander, Consumers' Counsel Columbus