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 past year, we’ve written occasionally about how many in the Tea Party movement are inspired by racism, fear and hate. When we have, we’ve gotten angry e-mails and blog comments telling us that just isn’t so. Like clockwork, Teabaggers then go and say something to prove our point.
Well, they have again. And this time it’s a doozie.
A Democratic operative who once served as former Cincinnati Councilman John Cranley’s campaign manager already is staking out cyber turf in advance of Cranley’s rumored run for mayor of Cincinnati. Two Internet domains have been registered for CranleyForMayor on GoDaddy.com. The domains were created three months ago. As yet, no active websites are operating on CranleyForMayor.org or CranleyForMayor.info.
Both sites are held in the name of Jay Kincaid, a longtime Democratic operative in Cincinnati. This year, Kincaid has been working on the campaigns of Denise Driehaus, who is seeking reelection to the Ohio House, and Steve Black, who is running for Common Pleas Judge. (Kincaid is engaged to Black’s daughter.) Kincaid ran Cranley’s successful 2007 campaign for reelection to Cincinnati City Council and was paid about $26,000 for the work. Obviously, he and Cranley go back a long way. It’s doubtful Kincaid would have staked out the Internet domains for another candidate to double-cross Cranley. There have been instances where people have grabbed domains to shut out opponents, or set up spoof and decoys as dirty tricks. By all accounts, Kincaid is described as a trusted adviser.
So far, there’s been no official announcement that Cranley is running for mayor. Yet there have been plenty of rumors. Cranley recently positioned himself as an opponent of Mayor Mark Mallory’s efforts to finance the streetcar project, a move that put him back in the news. Registering Internet domains is likely to add to the speculation. All candidates these days have websites, and the portals are central to fundraising, getting out the word on issues and scheduling events.
Who else might be running to succeed Mallory, who is term-limited out of office next year? Among the D’s, names being mentioned include Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls, Democratic State Sen. Eric Kearney and Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld. Kearney is the highest-ranking Democrat in the Ohio Senate, and can’t run for reelection due to term limits. He’s reportedly told people he wants to move into the mayor’s office, but he’s also said to have recently changed his mind. The word from Democratic insiders about Kearney: Stay tuned. Qualls, who served as mayor in the 1990s, is said to be a definite. Sittenfeld is called a complete question mark.
On the GOP side, Charlie Winburn might run again. And Chris Smitherman is considered a possibility as either a Democrat, Republican, under a Third Party flag or an independent.
Councilwoman Yvette Simpson is questioning why WCPO used a man named Jim Kiefer as a source for a story after he harassed her on social media with racist insults.
WCPO’s Kevin Osborne
quoted Kiefer in a story, identifying him as a supporter for John Cranley’s mayoral
campaign. (Full disclosure: Osborne formerly worked for CityBeat.)
When Simpson saw the story with Kiefer as a source, she says she immediately recognized him as someone who has repeatedly harassed her with racist remarks on Facebook.
Kiefer's Facebook page was publicly viewable prior to Simpson calling him out on Twitter yesterday, but it has since been made private.
On Oct. 20, the day before WCPO's story was published, Kiefer posted a message on his Facebook wall that said, “For my pick as worst councilperson in cincinnati (sic).... Evette (sic) getto (sic) Simpson!” Although the post included various grammatical and spelling errors, Kiefer then attached an image that said, “No you may not ‘Axe’ me a question. I don't speak Walmart.”
Several of Simpson’s colleagues, including Councilman Chris Seelbach and City Council candidate Mike Moroski, have come to Simpson’s defense after she posted the image.
The issue for Simpson is whether a media outlet should be
using Kiefer as a source, considering his images and posts were publicly viewable on Facebook. Simpson says Osborne never responded to
her email asking whether he or WCPO is aware of Kiefer’s history. Osborne is Facebook friends with Kiefer.
CityBeat contacted WCPO News Director Alex Bongiorno by phone and email to ask about WCPO’s policy for vetting and identifying sources, but no response was given prior to the publishing of this story.
WCPO’s story detailed criticisms from Cranley supporters against opponent Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls, who Simpson supports. Specifically, the story questioned why Qualls allegedly never sought an opinion from the Ohio Board of Ethics over whether her work as a realtor presents a potential conflict of interest with her support for the streetcar project, which could increase property values — and perhaps Qualls’ compensation as a realtor — along its route.
It turns out Qualls had asked for a professional opinion on the ethical issue at least two times before,
but the city solicitor deemed the connection
between Qualls’ work and the streetcar project too indirect and
speculative to present a conflict of interest, according to an email
from City Solicitor John Curp copied to CityBeat and other media outlets.
Kiefer called CityBeat after people on social media discussed CityBeat’s various calls for comment for this story. Kiefer said the images were supposed to be jokes. “You have to have a sense of humor,” he said.
The Cranley campaign says it has and wants nothing to do with Kiefer.
“John (Cranley) wouldn’t know Jim Kiefer if he walked past him in
the street right now. It’s not someone that he’s ever met. It’s not
someone that he’s ever dealt with. It’s not someone that the campaign
has ever dealt with,” says Jay Kincaid, Cranley’s campaign director.
“Whatever his views are don’t reflect those of John.”
Kincaid also points out that Cranley’s record goes against
some of the bigotry perpetuated by Kiefer's posts. While on City Council, Cranley
championed and helped pass an anti-racial profiling ordinance and LGBT
protections in local hate crime laws.
Simpson’s history with Kiefer goes back to at least June,
when Simpson says Kiefer went on a racist tirade against her on Facebook
in the middle of an online discussion over the city’s parking plan. The
discussion has been deleted since then, but Simpson says
Kiefer told her to never return to the West Side of Cincinnati.
This is not the first time Kiefer touted images with bigoted connotations on his Facebook wall. In one instance, he “liked” an image of President Barack Obama in tribal regalia. In another, he posted an image of Barney Frank that mocked the former congressman’s homosexuality.
UPDATE: Some courthouse officials are saying CityBeat's sources are wrong, and that no decision has been made on who will fill Clancy's former job. The officials say applications were being accepted until Jan. 5, and the judges will decide later. One option would be to keep the position vacant, at least temporarily, to save money. Other sources, however, are saying the selection of Jodie Leis-George and Casey DeNoma to share the job is a "done deal" and courthouse officials are seeking political cover for the choice. We shall see in the weeks to come.
Almost a full decade after Cincinnati voters passed a charter amendment that changed the way police chiefs are selected, it's being used for the first time.
City Manager Milton Dohoney Jr. announced this morning that he's selected a candidate from outside the current police ranks to head the Cincinnati Police Department. James E. Craig, who currently is the chief in Portland, Maine, will take the top spot here beginning in about a month, a city spokeswoman said.
A well-known Cincinnati philanthropist is among four people selected to receive the first-ever Women of Distinction Award by the national YWCA.
Francie Pepper is being recognized for her years of work in support of issues involving women, girls and racial justice.
Pepper has served on the board of the Cincinnati YWCA since 1996, and also served as chair of its board from 2000-04. She has played a critical role for women who have experienced domestic violence, co-chairing a YWCA capital campaign that raised $7.5 million for a larger shelter that tripled the agency’s capacity to serve battered women and their children so they wouldn’t have to be put on a waiting list.
Also, some campaign funds were used to restore the YWCA’s historic headquarters, located on Walnut Street downtown, add a childcare center to the facility.
Further, Pepper has volunteered for numerous organizations and causes in Greater Cincinnati, and her work in support of domestic violence awareness programs has gotten national recognition. She is a major supporter of the Sophia Smith Collection at Smith College, an internationally recognized repository of manuscripts, archives, photographs, periodicals and other primary sources in women's history, including all of the YWCA’s historical files.
Francie Pepper is the wife of John Pepper, who previously served as the chairman of the board at both Procter & Gamble and The Walt Disney Co.; she is the mother of David Pepper, a former Cincinnati city councilman and Hamilton County commissioner.
The Women of Distinction Award, bestowed by the YWCA USA, honors professional women from the private and public sectors across the United States who have demonstrated excellence, leadership and integrity in their fields and in the community, serving as role models for other successful women.
Nominations from YWCAs across the United States were solicited to find leaders whose work has made an impact on women’s economic empowerment and racial justice.
Other award recipients this year are:
• Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.), who survived an assassination attempt in January 2011, and is recovering from her injuries;
• Lt. Col. Tammy Duckworth, an Iraq War veteran and ex-Army helicopter pilot who combat wounds led to the amputation of her legs and cost her the use of her right arm; and
• Elouise Cobell, a Native
American leader who challenged the United States' mismanagement of trust funds
belonging to more than 500,000 individual Native Americans, leading to a $3.4
The study from the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) found salaried workers fared much better than hourly workers, and all-cause mortality was below expectations for them despite increased malignancies in blood, bone marrow, spleen, lymph nodes and thymus cells.
Hourly workers weren’t so lucky, according to the study. They had above-average cancer mortality rates in comparison to the rest of the U.S. population, but tests only provided evidence for a connection between hourly workers and intestinal cancer.
Previous studies also found a link between non-malignant respiratory disease and exposure to radiation, but the NIOSH study found no such connection. The discrepancy could be due to “improved exposure assessment, different outcome groupings and extended follow-up” in the NIOSH study, according to the study’s abstract.
The NIOSH study followed 6,409 workers who were employed at Fernald for at least 30 days between 1951 and 1985, following them through 2004.
Fernald was initially surrounded by controversy in 1984 when it was revealed that it was releasing millions of pounds of uranium dust into the atmosphere, causing radioactive contamination in surrounding areas. The controversy was elevated when Dave Bocks, an employee at the factory, mysteriously disappeared and was later found dead at a uranium processing furnace. Some suspected Bocks was murdered for allegedly being a whistleblower, but no evidence of foul play was ever officially recorded.
More than half of Cincinnati’s children live in poverty, according to the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2012 American Community Survey released Thursday.
The 2012 rate represents a roughly 10-percent increase in the city’s child poverty rate in the past two years. In 2010, 48 percent of Cincinnatians younger than 18 were considered impoverished; in 2012, the rate was 53.1 percent.
If the number was reduced back down to 2010 levels, approximately 4,500 Cincinnati children would be pulled out of poverty.
Overall poverty similarly increased in Cincinnati from 30.6 percent in 2010 to 34.1 percent in 2012.
Black residents were hit hardest with 46.4 percent classified as in poverty in 2012, up from 40.8 percent in 2010. Meanwhile, the poverty rate among white residents went from 19.8 percent in 2010 to 22.9 percent in 2012.
Hispanics of any race were placed at a poverty rate of 51 percent in 2012, but that number had an extraordinary margin of error of 15.5 percent, which means the actual poverty rate for Hispanics could be up to 15.5 percent higher or lower than the survey’s estimate. In 2010, 42 percent of Hispanics were classified as impoverished, but that number had an even larger margin of error of 17.9 percent.
The other local numbers had margins of error ranging from 2.2 percent to 4.9 percent.
The child poverty rates for Cincinnati were more than double Ohio’s numbers. Nearly one in four Ohio children are in poverty, putting the state at No. 33 worst among 50 states for child poverty, according to the Children’s Defense Fund of Ohio.
In 2012, the U.S. government put the federal poverty level for a family of four at an annual income of $23,050.
Some groups are using the numbers to make the case for new policies.
“Too many Ohioans are getting stuck at the lowest rung of the income ladder and kids are paying the price,” said Hannah Halbert, workforce researcher for left-leaning think tank Policy Matters Ohio, in a statement. “Policymakers — at both the state and federal levels — are making a clear choice to not invest in workers, families or kids. This approach is not moving our families forward.”
The federal government temporarily increased aid to low-income Americans through the federal stimulus package in 2009, but some of that extra funding already expired or is set to expire later in the year. The food stamp program’s cuts in particular could hit 1.8 million Ohioans, according to an Aug. 2 report from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.
At a local level, City Council has consistently failed to uphold its commitment to human services in the past decade, which human services agencies say is making the fight against poverty and homelessness more difficult.
(** UPDATE FOLLOWS AT END)
With another round of layoffs hitting The Enquirer and other Gannett newspapers nationwide, time will tell if a separate trend at the media company will occur soon in Cincinnati.
Gannett announced last week that it was pulling the plug on the print editions of two faux alt-weeklies, Metromixin Indianapolis and Noise in Lansing, Mich. Both will maintain an online presence, at least for now.
The move follows the cancellation of Metromix's print edition in Nashville last winter and the end of Velocity as a stand-alone paper in Louisville, which is being folded into The Courier-Journal.