In a request filed today, a newly formed partnership of consumer groups requested that the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio (PUCO) investigate each of Ohio’s investor-owned electric utilities, American Electric Power, Dayton Power & Light, Duke Energy and FirstEnergy, to determine whether they are doing enough to limit the breadth and depth of power outages in their respective regions. The partnership also believes that the electric utilities should not be permitted to increase rates to pay for costs related to the recent windstorm until an investigation is conducted to determine whether some of the outages were preventable.

The partnership – Consumers for Reliable Electricity in Ohio (CREO) – includes the Office of the Ohio Consumers’ Counsel (OCC), AARP Ohio, Appalachian People’s Action Coalition, Cleveland Housing Network, Consumers for Fair Utility Rates, Edgemont Neighborhood Coalition of Dayton , Empowerment Center of Greater Cleveland, May Dugan Multi Service Center, Neighborhood Environmental Coalition, Northwest Ohio Aggregation Coalition, Ohio Farm Bureau Federation, Ohio Farmers Union, Pro Seniors, Inc. and United Clevelanders Against Poverty.

“Over 2.6 million electric customers suffered without power, some for a week or longer, following September’s wind storm. Now is the time to investigate whether more routine maintenance – including tree trimming, pole inspections and equipment replacement – should have been performed by Ohio’s electric utilities,” said Janine Migden-Ostrander, Consumers’ Counsel. “During a severe storm, some power outages are bound to occur. Afterwards, public utilities and state regulatory agencies share a responsibility to review and investigate what can be done in the future to limit the extent and duration of the outages. An investigation by the PUCO would provide an opportunity to evaluate the utilities’ policies and practices to limit the affects of future storms.”

“The need for electric power for many farm and rural energy consumers is increasing dramatically. Farm Bureau leaders feel that enhancing and upgrading electric service will probably be one of the industry’s largest challenges since the system was first created in the 1920’s and 30’s,” said Dale Arnold, Director of Energy Services for the Ohio Farm Bureau Federation. “Proposals exploring procedures for inspection, maintenance, repair and replacement of transmission and distribution equipment provide opportunities where utilities, regulators and consumers can work together to address this issue.”

“The reliability of the Ohio's electric system is of paramount importance to the health, welfare and quality of life of individual consumers, particularly older consumers,” said Ron Bridges, Associate State Director for Government Affairs and Advocacy, AARP Ohio. “This must not be compromised by current electric industry restructuring efforts.”

Ellis Jacobs, attorney for the Edgemont Neighborhood Coalition of Dayton said, “Customers have long been paying for maintenance and repair services in their rates. We want to make sure that they have been getting their money's worth.”

CREO requested that several specific actions be taken within the context of the investigation. Among these are:

  • Reviewing utilities’ compliance with Ohio’s Electric Service and Safety Standards and other
    applicable safety and reliability standards;
  • Evaluating the effectiveness of the current standards and setting performance targets for
    momentary power interruptions;
  • Providing significant financial penalties for a utility’s failure to meet reliability standards;
  • Reviewing all reliability complaints filed at the PUCO and OCC; and
  • Auditing actual utility expenditures since Jan. 1995 as compared to the amount customers paid
    in rates for adequate and reliable service.
  • Reviewing protocols for determining the priority list for service restoral of customers.

State law requires that reliable service be provided by all of Ohio’s state-regulated electric utilities. Over the last several years, the adequacy of the maintenance of electric distribution lines has been scrutinized by consumer groups, including the OCC.

In January 2004, the OCC asked the PUCO to conduct a statewide electric reliability investigation, highlighting the need for electric utilities to provide tree trimming reports that define their practices, outline future plans and disclose current and future spending. Later that month, the PUCO rejected the OCC’s request. In January 2005, the OCC asked the PUCO to conduct a comprehensive AEP-specific reliability investigation based on the breadth and depth of power outages following two winter storms. The PUCO did not act on the request for a comprehensive investigation.

This request is particularly timely since each of Ohio’s investor-owned electric utilities has recently proposed rate increases to, among other things, improve service reliability. The rate increases are contained in expansive electric security plans.

“Certainly improvements in reliability are needed. The question becomes who pays for it and whether customers have been charged in their rates for improvements that were needed but never made,” Migden-Ostrander said.