Sorry, Dr. Suess.
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.
For the second time in three years, a Catholic priest has been pulled from parish duties from out of state and returned to Greater Cincinnati following allegations of sexual abuse.
The Rev. Robert F. Poandl was relieved of his ministry assignment as pastor of Glenmary missions in Georgia earlier this month and ordered to return to the Glenmary Home Missioners residence in Fairfield.
The action was taken after the Rev. Chet Artysiewicz, Glenmary president, was informed of an allegation of sexual misconduct involving a minor against Poandl. The abuse allegedly occurred about 30 years ago. Poandl, who is 70, has denied the allegation but isn’t allowed to publicly function as a Catholic priest during the investigation process, Artysiewicz said.
Artysiewicz is Poandl’s direct supervisor.
Police have been notified of the anonymous allegation, as have bishops in the dioceses affected by the investigation, including the Diocese of Savannah where Poandl was serving. The chairperson of the Glenmary Review Board was notified on Feb. 11, and an internal investigation was launched to determine the allegation’s credibility.
"I am committed to maintaining accountability and transparency as this investigative process unfolds," Artysiewicz said in a prepared statement. "Father Poandl and I have both pledged our full cooperation in this investigation, and I will do whatever I can to meet the pastoral needs of all those involved."
In August 2010, just days before his trial on molestation charges in West Virginia was set to begin, all charges against Poandl were dropped. Poandl allegedly abused a boy on a trip there in 1991, when the complainant was just 10 years old. The case was dropped due to unspecified issues during the discovery process related to the boy's medical records.
The turn of events prompted the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP) to write to 11 bishops in dioceses where Poandl worked, asking them to use their resources to contact others who might have been sexually abused by him, but only one in Texas replied.
Besides Cincinnati, Poandl worked in Kentucky (Franklin), Louisiana (New Orleans), Pennsylvania (Mifflintown and Doylesburg), Mississippi (Aberdeen), Oklahoma (Hugo), Texas (Pittsburgh and Mount Vernon), and most recently in Georgia (Claxton, Pembroke, Sandhill, Blairsville and Dahlonega).
He is originally from Metuchen, N.J., and studied in Ohio, Indiana and Mexico.
After the most recent allegation, SNAP has urged Artysiewicz to put Poandl in a secure treatment center away from children and pro-actively seek out others who may have seen, suspected or suffered from his alleged crimes.
In other news of possible priestly misconduct, jury selection continued today in a Philadelphia case involving two priests charged with rape and a monsignor charged with protecting them.
Monsignor William Lynn lost a bid to have his case thrown out based on new evidence found in a 10th-floor safe at the Archdiocese of Philadelphia. A memo turned over by the archdiocese this month states the late Cardinal Anthony Bevilacqua ordered his top aides to shred a list of 35 accused priests still in ministry in 1994 — a decade before the child abuse scandal became widely publicized.
Lynn said he prepared the list and gave it to Bevilacqua after he became secretary for clergy in 1992 and started reviewing secret archives of priest abuse complaints. The complaints were kept in a secure room, rigged with an alarm, at the archdiocese's downtown headquarters.
In an effort to promote greater transparency about who makes campaign contributions, outgoing Ohio Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner today unveiled a new set of election rules.
The rules, which were approved by the Ohio Joint Committee on Agency Rule Review, is aimed at offsetting some of the impact of the Citizens United ruling issued by the U.S. Supreme Court in January. In the landmark 5-4 decision, the court overturned a lower court’s ruling and removed existing restraints on corporations, allowing them to spend unlimited amounts of money in political campaigns.
What did they know and when did they know it? Moreover, why aren't they commenting on it?
“They,” in this case, are leaders of the Ohio Republican Party. And “it” is the drunken driving arrest of State Rep. Robert Mecklenborg (R-Green Township). In the 16 days since the April arrest became publicized through the media, the state GOP has been curiously silent about the matter.
A judicial conduct panel ruled this week that the primary election opponent of a local Municipal Court judge knowingly misrepresented himself in campaign materials.
The panel decided that retired appellate court judge William O’Neill from Cleveland left the impression that he is a current judge in a two-sided campaign card he distributed. In fact, O’Neill now works as an emergency room nurse at a hospital.
O’Neill and Hamilton County Municipal Court Judge Fanon Rucker are vying to be the Democratic Party’s nominee for the Ohio Supreme Court.
Whoever wins the March 6 primary election will face off against incumbent Justice Robert Cupp, a Republican, in the November general election.
The three-judge panel upheld the complaint filed by Richard Dove, secretary of the Ohio Supreme Court’s Board of Commissioners on Grievances and Discipline. The panel said O’Neill’s campaign card refers to him nine times as “judge,’’ while describing him as “former court of appeals judge’’ once.
“The fact that he is known as judge because of his tenure on the 11th District Court of Appeals and that as a retired judge he is known as a judge, he nevertheless as a judicial candidate is prohibited from using the term ‘judge’ before his name in campaign materials since he does not currently hold that office,’’ wrote Guernsey County Common Pleas Judge David Ellwood, who chaired the three-judge panel.
The panel recommended no discipline for O’Neill other than he stop distributing the card. A 5th District Court of Appeals judge must appoint a panel of five fellow appellate judges within the next week to consider the lower panel’s recommendations and make a final decision.
Rucker is the Ohio Democratic Party’s endorsed candidate, but O’Neil has twice before — in different races — had party leaders rescind an endorsement and give it to him.
O’Neill has run twice for the state Supreme Court — in 2004 and 2006 — and then Congress in 2008 and 2010. Although he has won in the primaries, O’Neill has lost in the general elections.
Local Democratic Party leaders are criticizing O’Neill, stating he is moving too slowly to remove misleading material from his campaign website.
“While Mr. O’Neill promised Monday to make the required corrections, as of this writing on Wednesday, Feb. 29, his website remains unchanged,” Hamilton County Democratic Party Chairman Tim Burke wrote in a statement issued Wednesday night.
“This is not the kind of conduct we as Democrats should condone by any of our candidates, especially candidates running for a seat on the highest court of our state,” Burke added. “Ohioans deserve a Supreme Court candidate who not only understands the law, but respects it as well.”
For more on the O’Neill/Rucker race, see this week’s issue of CityBeat.
That didn’t take long.
Less than 48 hours after it was revealed that the Ohio Ethics Commission issued an advisory opinion last year stating Cincinnati City Councilman Chris Bortz shouldn’t take part in decisions about a proposed streetcar project, a formal complaint has been filed with the commission.
(* David Krikorian is a businessman from Madeira who twice ran unsuccessfully against incumbent Jean Schmidt to represent Ohio's 2ndCongressional District. Schmidt is suing Krikorian for defamation, after he called her a “puppet” of special interests for accepting large amounts of cash from the Turkish government. Meanwhile, the Office of Congressional Ethics is investigating Schmidt’s receipt of legal assistance from a Turkish-American interest group.)
CityBeatrecently reported that an "odd coupling" of Congresswoman Jean Schmidt, a Republican, and State Rep. Dale Mallory, a Democrat, held a joint press conference publicly calling on the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to reverse its 2007 decision banning the pesticide Propoxur so that it can be used to combat bedbugs in apartments and homes.