Re-regulation of electric industry a tough sell in Ohio: former PUC chairman
Two of the nation’s largest electric utilities, Ohio’s American Electric Power and FirstEnergy, would face pushback from legislators and others if they try to re-regulate the state’s electric industry after a federal agency last week blocked their income-guarantee plans covering more than 6,000 MW of mostly coal-fired generation, Ohio’s former top utility regulator said Monday.
Time also is not in favor of the two electric utilities, among the largest in the US, Todd Snitchler said.
“I would like to say with certainty that that boat has sailed,” he said. “It would be a significant challenge to put the toothpaste back in the proverbial tube, so to speak.”
Snitchler, an attorney, has spent years in Ohio’s legislative and regulatory arenas. Officially non-partisan, Snitchler served in the Ohio House of Representatives from 2009-2011 before he was tapped by Republican Governor John Kasich as chairman of the Ohio Public Utilities Commission. He served two years in that capacity before resigning in 2013.
Snitchler now is spokesman for the Alliance for Energy Choice, a trade group comprised of several major competitive energy companies such as Dynegy, NRG Energy, Calpine and PSE&G, as well as retail energy supply associations.
For months, the group fought the power purchase agreements proposed by AEP and FirstEnergy. On March 31, the PUC voted 5-0 to approve the plans, derided as thinly veiled subsidies by their critics. On April 27, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission rejected the plans, ruling their non-bypassable structure would improperly affect “captive” customers of both utilities.
Nick Akins, AEP’s chairman, president and CEO, said afterward that his Columbus-based company may push for legislation this year in the Ohio General Assembly to replace S.B. 221, the state’s 2008 comprehensive energy law.
FirstEnergy, headquartered in Akron, has not been as publicly direct in its support for re-regulation. However, the company has de-emphasized its competitive business in the past couple of years. About 90% of FirstEnergy’s earnings now come from its regulated operations, company officials said last week.
Snitchler believes re-regulation is a non-starter in Ohio.
Since 2008, the political terrain has changed dramatically in the state, he said.
“The Legislature seems to be more in support of the free market,” he said. “The complexion of the General Assembly has changed and shifted more to the right.”
Billions of dollars have been invested in moving toward competition in Ohio. Duke Energy Ohio has sold its generation in the state to Dynegy while AEP and FirstEnergy have spun off their generation. Dayton Power & Light, the state’s smallest investor-owned electric utility, is expected to do the same by early 2017.
Popular sentiment also could weigh against re-regulation attempts by AEP and FirstEnergy, he said, because Ohio “would go back to a system where customers would be charged more.” That, he added, would be a tough sell for politicians.