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by Hannah McCartney 02.08.2012
at 02:45 PM | Permalink | Comments (1)
 
 
renewable-energy

A Greener Cincinnati? Energy Aggregation Explained

The Cincinnati City Council met on Monday to discuss the energy aggregation policy for the city, which, if implemented, could mean big changes in the way residents’ homes are powered.

In the meeting, Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls introduced a motion outlining the possible use of renewable energy credits (RECs), also known as renewable energy certificates, through an energy aggregation program that could be put into place as soon as this June or July. The motion was passed unanimously by the Budget and Finance Committee, meaning that the city will be preparing to send out requests for proposal (RFPs) to power suppliers within the next few weeks.

In November, Cincinnati voters overwhelmingly approved Issues 44 and 45, which gave the city the authority to negotiate aggregation purchase rates of natural gas and electricity for residents and businesses.

Wondering what exactly energy aggregation is? In Ohio, communities are allowed to pool funds together and purchase natural gas and electricity as a group. Because a community pools together, that means it can access the lowest rates — think of it like a trip to Sam’s Club. The more you purchase of something at one time, the lower rate per unit you can access.

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by 06.21.2010
Posted In: 2010 Election, Democrats, News at 04:16 PM | Permalink | Comments (1)
 
 

Bernadette Watson Gets a New Gig

As Bernadette Watson decides whether to run for Cincinnati City Council again in 2011, she's keeping busy by helping a former council member get elected to state office.

Watson has been named as campaign manager for Alicia Reece, a Democrat who is seeking to keep the Ohio House 33rd District seat. Reece, an ex-Cincinnati vice mayor, was appointed to the seat in March to replace Tyrone Yates. Yates, who was facing term limits, was appointed to a municipal judgeship.

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by Hannah McCartney 08.08.2013
Posted In: Energy, Environment, Ethics, News at 10:03 AM | Permalink | Comments (1)
 
 
first energy

FirstEnergy Penalized $43.3 Million for Overcharging Customers

Company overpriced renewable energy credits purchased from affiliate company

On Wednesday the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio unanimously ruled that Akron, Ohio-based energy supplier FirstEnergy Corp. must credit its Ohio customers $43.3 million for overcharging for renewable energy credits (RECs) from 2009-2011 that it purchased from its affiliate, FirstEnergy Solutions.

RECs are tradable, non-tangible energy credits that represent proof that one megawatt-hour (MWh) of electricity has been sourced from an eligible renewable energy resource. First Energy Solutions is an energy generator and supplier, while First Energy Corp. is an electricity distributor, which means that it sources its electricity from elsewhere, which requires them to issue bids seeking the most competitively priced energy from a supplier such as First Energy Solutions.

According to the First Energy Corp. website, First Energy Solutions is the competitive subsidiary of FirstEnergy Corp. Both suppliers are based in Akron. An audit conducted by Exeter Associates Inc. revealed that FirstEnergy Corp. paid 15 times more than any other company in the country to purchase the RECs from FirstEnergy Solutions, and FirstEnergy Corp. passed that overcharge onto consumers. 

In a copy of the order issued yesterday by the PUC obtained by CityBeat, it states that, "The Companies contend that, given the nascent market, lack of market information available to the Companies, and uncertainty regarding future supply and prices, the Companies' decisions to purchase in-state RECs were reasonable and prudent."

In summary, FirstEnergy contends that because it was scrambling to find a way to meet the state's Clean Energy Law requirements, it had to buy these RECs no matter the cost, and that there are no legal specifications within the Clean Energy Law that requires RECs be purchased or sold at market price; and that the costs issued to them, and subsequently, customers, weren't unreasonable.

The Ohio Consumers Counsel, however, says that there were cheaper alternatives available and that FirstEnergy should have checked with the PUC prior to paying 15 times more for RECs than any other country had in the past. If they'd rejected the exorbitant bids, says OCC, and instead consulted with PUC and OCC, they could have come up with a solution to prevent from charging customers excessively high rates.

In June 2012, FirstEnergy Solutions was the winning bidder in Cincinnati's energy aggregation program, which is supposed to allow us to receive lower "aggregate" rates for buying in bulk. At the time, FirstEnergy touted the merits of its "100 percent green" energy supply, sourced from wind, solar, biomass and other renewable resources. The bid was expected to save homeowners around $133 annually.

What enabled FirstEnergy to provide the "clean" energy was its use of a system with non-tangible renewable energy credit (RECs) that each represent proof that one megawatt-hour (MWh) of electricity has been sources from a renewable energy resource.

Purchasing the credits from its subsidiary allows FirstEnergy Corp. to meet the state's renewable energy standard, which requires that by 2025 all Ohio utility companies provide at least 25 percent of their energy from renewable resources.

Because the lawsuit issued by the PUC examines only the amount paid for RECs during compliance periods between 2009 and 2011, Cincinnati customers who switched to FirstEnergy Solutions last June should not be affected, although the FirstEnergy arms' ambiguous behavior, says Dan Sawmiller, a Sierra Club member who manages Ohio's Beyond Coal campaign, is a likely indicator that the company may be engaging in other unethical practices related to consumer transparency. 

The company has not been devoid of controversy in the past. In March, CityBeat reported on state environmental groups' concerns with the movement to lower requirements for defining renewable energy and energy efficiency; FirstEnergy was part of the bloc working to weaken Ohio's Clean Energy Law in hopes of keeping corporation costs low. FirstEnergy was also chastised by the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio in 2009 for distributing and charging customers for energy-efficient light bulbs without receiving customers' authorization.

Sawmiller commended the PUC for fining First Energy, although he suggests the fine is likely modest for the actual damages. He still expresses concern about the need for corporate separation between the two FirstEnergy arms. "
The commission left much to be desired in terms of transparency, leaving customers in the dark about what types of renewables are being provided, where are they coming from and at what cost," says Sawmiller in Sierra Club's press release.

 
 
by 11.12.2008
Posted In: Public Policy, News, Business at 03:37 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 

Bortz: Opposing Duke Deal is 'Moronic'

A Cincinnati official who supports a deal negotiated by the city manager to accept a Duke Energy rate hike in exchange for getting $7 million from the company for a proposed streetcar system says it would have been “fiscally moronic” for the city not to accept it.

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by 04.08.2009
Posted In: City Council, 2009 Election at 09:22 PM | Permalink | Comments (2)
 
 

Dems Recommend Council Slate

They're just one step away from a full endorsement. 

The endorsement group of the Cincinnati Democratic Committee (CDC) recommended a full slate of candidates – featuring four incumbents and five challengers – tonight that included some surprises. Among the non-incumbents recommended for endorsement is a former investigative reporter for WCPO-TV (Channel 9) and an Avondale neighborhood activist who once worked for then-Mayor Charlie Luken. Also, a candidate endorsed by Democrats in 2007 but who didn’t win a council seat was rebuffed by the party this time.

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by Kevin Osborne 04.04.2012
Posted In: News, Media, Business, Community, Financial Crisis at 12:25 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
enquirer

Enquirer Sheds 12 Newsroom Staffers

Company buyout period has ended

The bloodletting in the newsroom at The Enquirer is over, at least for now.

Editor Carolyn Washburn sent an email to the newspaper’s editorial staff this morning, announcing the names of 12 people who have decided to accept a voluntary “early retirement” severance deal offered by The Enquirer’s parent firm, The Gannett Co.

CityBeat already has reported that political columnist Howard Wilkinson, longtime photographer Michael Keating and Editorial Page Editor Ray Cooklis were among those departing the media company.

Other editorial staffers who are taking the buyout are business reporter Mike Boyer; Features Editor Dave Caudill; news reporter Steve Kemme; Copy Desk Chief Sue Lancaster; Production Manager Greg Noble; Butler/Warren Editor Jim Rohrer; sports copy editor Bill Thompson; Copy Editor Pat Tolzmann; and Copy Editor Tim Vonderbrink.

They join Assistant Managing Editor/Sports Barry Forbis and Deputy Sports Editor Rory Glynn, who announced their resignations in March.

In her email, Washburn wrote that the company will throw a party in its conference room for the departing staffers on April 12.

As one ex-Enquirer reporter said when hearing about the plans, “Some sendoff for those leaving. Washburn is throwing them a ‘proper party,’ whatever that is, for them on the 20th floor, no doubt in the sterile training room where staffers learn about inane new corporate initiatives. A ‘proper party’ for the loss of 350-plus years of experience and institutional knowledge would be an employee tavern of choice with an open bar, but what would Washburn know?”

Gannett announced the buyout offer Feb. 9 and gave employees 45 days to decide whether to apply for the deal.

At the close of the offer period, editors reviewed applications and made final decisions; some people who apply for the deal potentially could've been turned down if their position is deemed essential to the newspaper’s operation.

Under the deal, newspaper employees who are age 56 or older and have at least 20 years of service with Gannett as of March 31 are eligible. Although executives said 785 employees meet the criteria, the deal only is being offered to 665 employees “due to ongoing operational needs at the company.”

As part of reductions mandated by Gannett, The Enquirer has laid off about 150 workers during the past two years. Also, employees have had to take five unpaid furloughs during the past three years.

Gannett recently gave Craig Dubow, its CEO who allegedly left the company due to health reasons, a $37.1 million compensation package. The Columbia Journalism Review examined what Gannett could’ve bought with that money instead, including paying for the starting salaries of 1,474 staffers at The Indianapolis Star or 310,720 annual subscriptions to The Tallahassee Democrat's website.

Here is the full text of Washburn’s email:

From: Washburn, Carolyn

Sent: Wednesday, April 04, 2012 8:39 AM

To: CIN-News Users; ohiodaily

Subject: saying thank you to our new retirees

It's official now. In the next couple of weeks we will say thank you and best wishes to these colleagues who have decided to take the company's early retirement offer. The complete group is, in no particular order:

Dave Caudill,
Greg Noble,
Jim Rohrer,
Sue Lancaster,
Pat Tolzmann,
Tim Vonderbrink,
Bill Thompson,
Michael Keating,
Mike Boyer,
Steve Kemme,
Howard Wilkinson, Ray Cooklis

Ray will be here until April 27. Greg's last day in the office was a week or so ago, before a furlough and vacation. Everyone else will have their last day next Thursday, April 12.

We will have a proper party in the 20th floor conference room on April 12 at 4pm.

I'll meet with some small groups in the next few days and we'll have a full staff meeting the week of April 16 to talk about what's next, now that we are confirmed on who chose to retire. There is a plan. :)

We will be very sad to say goodbye. But I am happy for these folks who decided this was the right thing for them.

Thanks again to Dave, Greg, JR, Sue, Pat, Tim, Bill, Michael, Mike, Steve, Howard and Ray. 

 
 
by 04.01.2009
Posted In: NAACP, LGBT Issues, Social Justice at 03:22 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 

Who 'Evoked' First?

In defending his selection of an anti-gay rights activist to become the Cincinnati NAACP’s legal advisor, Christopher Smitherman scolded critics for daring to invoke the legacy of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.

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by Hannah McCartney 03.05.2012
Posted In: Governor, Government, Ethics at 12:52 PM | Permalink | Comments (2)
 
 
prison_profit

ACLU of Ohio Protests Privatizing State Prisons

Says it will add to state budges, hurt public safety and lead to unnecessary incarcerations

There are certain institutions in the U.S. that we don't like to think of as strictly profit-seeking endeavors. It can be difficult to swallow that (supposedly) do-good establishments like retirement homes, textbook companies and hospitals exist to bring in revenue rather than serve the needs of a community without waiver. In Ohio, one state prison is already that a business and others could soon follow suit. 

In September of 2011, Ohio became the first state in the nation to sell a state prison facility to a private prison company when the Lake Erie Correctional Institute in Ashtabula County was sold to the Corrections Corporation of America, the nation's largest prison operator, for $72.7 million.

The idea to privatize Ohio prisons was concocted by Gov. John Kasich in an attempt to fill an $8 billion hole in Ohio's budget. The sale brought in an extra $50 million to use in balancing Ohio's prison budget.

Kasich's budget strategy included an overhaul of Ohio's Department of Rehabilitation and Correction, which means that private prison facility owners would actually benefit from more incarcerations. Now, CCA has made an offerto  48 U.S. states to buy and privatize state prisons. The offer, the Corrections Investment Initiative, outlines CCA's plan to spend up to $250 million on state, local and federal entities and then manage the facilities. According to the CCA's statement from Harley Lappin, Chief Corrections Officer at CCA, they're only interested in buying facilities that are willing to sign over rights of ownership to the CCA for a minimum of 20 years, and states must agree to keep the facilities at least 90 percent full.


With six million Americans in the corrections system, the U.S. already has the highest rates of incarceration in the world — including per capita and in absolute terms surpassing countries like Iran, China and Russia. CCA'S website glorifies its mission as noble; a video on the home page shows a patriotic, proudly waving flag. Text touts its strategies as forward-thinking and altruistic, noting that they are "protecting public safety, employing the best people in solid careers, rehabilitating inmates, giving back to communities, and bringing innovative security to government corrections."

The ACLU of Ohio has issued a statement strongly opposing the change; it argues that privatizing state prisons will add debt to state budges, hurt public safety and lead to more unnecessary incarcerations. According to "Prisons for Profit: A Look at Prison Privatization," a report published by ACLU-Ohio, privately-run prisons only offer a short-term infusion of cash, not long-term savings. "Cost savings in privately run facilities [like those run by CCA] are achieved by cutting the pay of workers," says Mike Bricker, ACLU Director of Communications and Public Policy. Corrections officers in private facilities make significantly less and receive far less benefits than those in public facilities. This difference, he says, results in an astronomically higher turnover rate in private facilities. "When something bad happens, they leave," he says.

The high turnover rate makes for a consistently less experienced staff, which means officers aren't as well-prepared when a bad situation does arise. He cites an example when cutting corners came at a high price: A CCA-run Youngstown facility that opened in 1997 brought in 1,700 violent inmates from Washington, D.C. at what was supposed to be a medium-security prison. Over the course of a year, there were 16 stabbings, two murders and six escapes; the situation became such a concern to the community that Youngstown sued CCA in 1998 and the facility was shut down.

According to Brickner, the smallest incident is enough to negate the short-term revenue from privatizing prisons; when the main objective is profit, privatized prisons want to book non-violent offenders who won't be in facilities for a long period of time. That means cells become overcrowded when minor offenders could be in rehabilitation, and extremely violent detainees tend to be managed improperly.

"It is inherently wrong to allow private businesses to make a profit off the incarceration of others," said Brickner in an ACLU press release. “Our state’s prison system is bloated, and private corporations have a vested financial interest to ensure our prisons remain full. If state officials have any hope of shrinking our prison population, we must implement transformative criminal justice reform policies and reject interests that grow our prison system.”

Brickner suggests that concerned citizens contact their elected representatives to express their opposition to privatizing prisons. Read the ACLU's full report on privatizing prisons here.

 
 
by Danny Cross 02.23.2012
 
 
tumblr_lzq090qjw41r0lmyx

Watch Out, Obama — Real Socialists Are Running in 2012

Durham and López want healthcare for all

If President Obama hopes to rely on all the socialists who in 2008 elected him with hopes of seeing all of America’s wealth get spread around, he better come up with something even more radical this year.

Something called the Freedom Socialist Party announced in December that it is running two candidates in a national write-in campaign — New Yorker Stephen Durham for president and Christina López, of Seattle, for vice president. And today the duo sent out a press release demonstrating that America’s real socialists are none too pleased with Obama’s first three years in office.

In a memo titled, “Recognize healthcare as a human right — make it universal and free,” Durham and López refer to Obama’s healthcare reform as one of the biggest disappointments of his presidency.

“Instead of stepping up to the plate and acknowledging that public healthcare is a need as great as public education,” the release states, “Obama made one concession after another to the pharmaceutical and insurance mega-corporations. As he restated in his February State of the Union address, his Affordable Care Act does not give the government the role of guaranteeing universal care; instead, it relies on a reformed private market.”

López goes even further, calling the healthcare program just another one of Obama’s “sellouts of the human rights of women and immigrants under corporate and right-wing pressure.”

Ouch!

Durham, according to the FSP website, says Obama and the other jokers in Washington have furthered the struggle of America’s working class and poor during their bipartisan attempts at correcting the recession.

“The Democratic and Republican parties have done nothing but cooperate in forcing workers and the poor to pay the costs of the Great Recession caused by the banks and Wall Street,” the site says. “President Obama may play to the crowd by criticizing ‘bad apple’ corporations, as he did in his State of the Union address. But the facts show that the program of corporate coddling, which creates austerity for the masses, is completely bipartisan.”

Durham and López are also offended by Obama’s recent compromise with religious institutions over providing birth control coverage.

Durham says the only way to provide quality health care is to get private insurers out of the picture altogether. For-profit insurance companies, according to a Baltimore-area neurologist Dr. Steven Strauss, are a fundamental problem.

“No one should be making a profit from providing — or, more to the point, denying — the medical care that should be treated as a basic human right,” Strauss says, according to the release. “But insurance and drug companies are among the biggest money-makers in the nation, amassing billions each year from people's suffering.”

The Freedom Socialist Party believes that a single-payer option such as Medicare, if it were to be offered to everyone, would be a reasonable first step but that all for-profit entities must be removed from the pharmaceutical, medical supply and hospitals industries.

It also suggests taxing corporations and the very wealthy — something that’s not going to take away any of Obama’s votes because he’s trying to do that, too. And the duo’s ideas for redirecting military spending to the nation’s human needs probably won’t cost the president too many reelection votes, either.

For more information go to www.socialism.com or email the stuff you hate about unrelenting capitalism to votesocialism@gmail.com.

President Obama could not be reached for comment before the publishing of this blog.

 
 
by 05.19.2010
Posted In: Media Criticism, Immigration at 03:39 PM | Permalink | Comments (1)
 
 

Enquirer Writer Deleted on His Own Blog

An unusual online exchange Tuesday between an occasional CityBeat freelancer and an Enquirer sports blogger led to the blogger’s own comments being deleted for violating the newspaper’s terms of service.

The comment seems to have been deleted by a moderator for being racist against Hispanics.

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