Thursday, May 26, 2011 at 4:53 PM
The state’s utility regulators have voted to phase out a special rate for homeowners in all-electric homes. But as Ohio Public Radio’s Karen Kasler reports, they may not have the final word.
The decision affects people in about 300-thousand northeast Ohio homes that have heating and appliances run by electricity. FirstEnergy had been offering special rates for all electric homes since the mid 70s. But two years ago electric bills for those homeowners soared – and even doubled – when FirstEnergy cut the discounts. The homeowners appealed to the Public Utilities Commission, which now says FirstEnergy can get rid of those discounts in a two year phase out. Before voting for the discount phase out, to Commissioner Paul Centolella says he listened to the testimony against it.
“I heard the pain and the fear in some cases in the voices of consumers about some of these issues. However, in cases such as this, we are bound by the record that is presented to us in the case.”
The homeowners say FirstEnergy broke a promise to make those discounts permanent. Sue Steigerwald is a spokesperson for Citizens for Keeping the All Electric Promise, a coalition of all-electric homeowners.
“We all drank the same Kool-Aid where they said if you build your home all-electric, you have no gas appliances that we will give you this discount. And we chose to go all-electric under the premise that their part of the deal is they would make it affordable to us to heat our homes with electricity by giving us this discounted rate.”
But FirstEnergy’s Mark Durbin says the ruling means homeowners will still get a discount, but it won’t be as big and enduring as the one they say they were promised.
“No promise was ever made, and even in the ruling, the commission stated that they determined that there really wasn’t any evidence that would show that there were any marketing practices or contracts that we had involving the all-electric rates that would be construed as they would be around forever. That’s just not the case. We were very, we said all along that the rates would be available as long as they were in place.”
But this battle isn’t over. Republican Sen. Tom Patton of Strongsville says he’s not waiting for the case to be reappealed to the PUCO or to go the Ohio Supreme Court, and will go ahead and push for his bill that would make those special rates permanent.
“It’s a devastating blow to the all-electric homeowners. And we will proceed with legislation that we had drafted hoping that we wouldn’t have to pursue it but looks like we will have to pursue it.”
The homeowners that were hit with this rate shock are also involved in a class action lawsuit against FirstEnergy filed by lawyer and Republican State Sen. Tim Grendell of Chesterland. It claims the utility broke its contract and seeks refunds going back to the date of the elimination of the special rates.
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