Efforts by Ohio’s traditional monopoly power companies – American Electric Power, headquartered in Columbus, Akron-based FirstEnergy, and Dayton Power & Light – to persuade legislators to scrap competitive markets and return to a fully regulated system could run afoul of an important political player – voters, according to a February 2 report by the Cleveland Plain Dealer..
A telephone survey conducted in January by Fallon Research and Communications of Columbus on behalf of the Alliance for Energy Choice and AARP Ohio found strong voter opposition to the state returning to traditional utility monopolies. Fallon’s interviewers talked to more than 800 Ohio voters about key issues that are likely to emerge in the State House when lawmakers consider changing Ohio’s 16-year embrace of competition.
The utilities already have been talking about restructuring and have kept the legislative leadership up-to-date, AEP CEO Nick Akinstold investors last week, the local news outlet said.
The poll found that:
- More than 91 percent of respondents would oppose any law change allowing FirstEnergy or Columbus-based AEP to build new power plants and raise monthly rates to pay for them.
- Nearly 79 percent would oppose any legislation that repealed a customer’s choice to shop for power suppliers. Dozens of independent suppliers now compete for customers through a state-maintained website. A return to old-style regulation could end that kind of competition, say independent power companies, forcing customers to return to their traditional electric utilities for electricity as well as delivery.
- Nearly 62 percent said they would oppose paying extra every month to support older power plants that cannot compete well against modern gas turbine plants.
- Nearly 60 percent of voters would object to the creation of special subsidies for one fuel source — in this case FirstEnergy’s nuclear power plants, which are expensive to operate and do not always compete well against gas turbine plants. The idea has been adopted in New York and Illinois, but has been challenged as anti-competitive. FirstEnergy is considering asking for such a subsidy but has not made a final decision, the Plain Dealer said.
The questions were added to a much broader statewide Ohio Omnibus Survey that Fallon performs twice a year.
Alliance spokesperson Todd Snitchler, a former chairman of the Public Utilities Committee of Ohio, told the newspaper that the results were “surprisingly consistent,” across gender, age, party affiliation and location.
“Consumers are interested in lowest cost power for their families and businesses, not paying above-market prices to ensure higher dividends for a handful of companies and their shareholders.”
The Alliance a year ago joined with AARP Ohio to pay for questions in Fallon’s January statewide poll. They wanted to know the public’s position on the issue of rate increases by FirstEnergy and AEP to subsidize their old power plants. The companies had cases pending before the state. The poll found that voters were adamantly opposed.
AEP dropped the idea but FirstEnergy proposed new language in an effort to avoid federal oversight, the newspaper said.
In October 2016, the PUCO approved a much smaller subsidy and avoided calling it a subsidy for power plants. Appeals are still pending before the commission.