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Mayor Frank Jackson: Cleveland Considering Lawsuit Against FirstEnergy

Power lines run above a street in Cleveland. Mayor Frank Jackson said Tuesday that his administration was developing a lawsuit against FirstEnergy.  [Nick Castele / ideastream]
Power lines run above a street in Cleveland's Detroit-Shoreway neighborhood.

Updated 4:55 p.m., Tuesday, Feb. 16, 2021

Cleveland is considering a lawsuit against FirstEnergy, accusing the Akron-based utility of undermining city-owned Cleveland Public Power, Mayor Frank Jackson said during a Tuesday budget presentation to city council.

Jackson alleged that FirstEnergy sought to create a monopoly at CPP’s expense. Both utilities provide service to customers in the city.

“Our primary concern is recovering the cost and the damages that have been perpetrated on Cleveland Public Power by FirstEnergy because of its unfair practices,” Jackson told council. “So we’re developing a lawsuit on that. We’re going directly at them on that.”

Jackson made those comments to explain why he was not joining other Ohio cities in backing a state lawsuit over House Bill 6, which bailed out nuclear power plants that were spun off from FirstEnergy. Entering that suit could complicate the city’s own potential legal case, the mayor said.

FirstEnergy spokeswoman Jennifer Young replied to the mayor’s comments in an email to ideastream.

“FirstEnergy looks forward to engaging in discussions with City of Cleveland leaders to resolve outstanding issues,” she wrote. “We support the City’s operation of Cleveland Public Power and are committed to fostering mutual respect for each other’s ability to serve customers.”

Federal prosecutors allege that HB 6 was born out of a $60 million bribery scheme linked to “Company A,” widely understood to be FirstEnergy.

CPP faces its own challenges. A 2019 consultant report, which was obtained by news organizations last year, found the utility to be “mired in systemic, performance and financial issues.” That report recommended rate increases, which the city has not committed to.

Cleveland City Council held a series of hearings on the public utility’s problems last year. This month, Council President Kevin Kelley authorized subpoenas as part of an investigation into alleged efforts to harm CPP.

Those document requests targeted two groups: Consumers Against Deceptive Fees, which has criticized CPP rates; and Generation Now, a so-called “dark money” group that has pleaded guilty in the federal corruption case.

The tension between CPP and FirstEnergy may play a prominent role in this year’s mayoral election. Dennis Kucinich, who fought with a FirstEnergy corporate predecessor as mayor in the 1970s, is considering a mayoral bid and has criticized the city on utility issues. Kelley, who has spearheaded council’s recent investigative moves, is also raising money for a potential run.

The city is trying to put a dollar figure on the alleged damage CPP has suffered, Jackson said. He didn’t specify when the city would file a complaint in court against FirstEnergy, saying that it would take time to prepare a case.

“Now, of course, it takes a while to put all your stuff together,” the mayor said. “I’m just telling you what we’re going to do. Ain’t no mystery. And so we’re going after them.”

nick.castele@ideastream.org | 216-916-6288