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City Council Launches Cleveland Public Power Hearings

Cleveland Public Power does not generate electricity, but it does own the infrastructure that delivers power to more than 70,000 Cleveland customers. [Nick Castele / ideastream]
Cleveland Public Power building in Downtown Cleveland

Cleveland City Council is launching a series of hearings on Cleveland Public Power (CPP), weeks after the release of a report calling the public utility “mired in systemic, performance and financial issues.”

The report from consultants NewGen Strategies and Solutions found high costs, a system in poor condition and organizational dysfunction have hampered CPP’s business.

Councilman Brian Kazy, who took over as chairman of the city council’s utilities committee this year, said the hearings would take an “in-depth dive” into CPP’s finances, customer service, power purchasing and other topics.

“In light of things like the power outages, hearing from residents in regards to billing process and customer service, I just thought it was a good time to take a delve into Cleveland Public Power and make sure that they’re doing the right thing,” Kazy said, referring to outages over the past few years that have vexed customers.  

Council holds its first hearing Tuesday at 11:30 a.m. Subsequent hearings are planned over the next several weeks, Kazy said.

An unredacted copy of the report obtained by ideastream proposes rate increases to help CPP meet the cost of services, despite also highlighting the utility’s uncompetitive rates. But rate hikes aren’t on the table right now, Kazy told ideastream Monday.

“That’s something that the council will obviously be looking at as well, but I do not see in the near future — and the near future would be the rest of this year and all of 2021 — a rate increase, at all,” Kazy said. “We’re going to make sure that everything in regards to Cleveland Public Power is running the right way before we decide on anything regarding a rate increase.”

The 80-page report found CPP’s rates to be 13 percent higher than those of Cleveland Electric Illuminating Company, a competitor owned by FirstEnergy Corp.

The report also called the utility’s electrical transmission and distribution system “unacceptable” and “unsafe,” with oil leaks and facilities overgrown by plants.

In the summer of 2018, about 40,000 customers on the West Side lost power for nearly seven hours. At the time, CPP leadership pledged to work “feverishly” to fix a backup line that had been out of service since December 2016.

The hearings take place as a $60 million bribery scandal ensnares CPP’s longtime competitor. Earlier this summer, federal prosecutors accused Rep. Larry Householder, then the Republican speaker of the Ohio House, and associates of taking bribes from “Company A” in exchange for a bailout of Ohio’s two nuclear power plants.

No one from FirstEnergy or nuclear plant owner Energy Harbor, formerly known as FirstEnergy Solutions, has been charged. The company received subpoenas as part of the investigation, according to a statement issued by FirstEnergy.

Nick Castele is a senior reporter covering politics and government for Ideastream Public Media.