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.
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.
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.
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.
"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.
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.