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Ohio consumer advocate wants utility regulator to implement refund rule

Ohio's top consumer advocate is leading the charge in pushing state regulators to adopt a rule that would ensure ratepayers are reimbursed for unlawful utility tariffs.

The Office of the Ohio Consumers' Counsel, or OCC, filed comments Jan. 13 on the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio's review of rules regarding utility tariffs and underground utility protection services.

The consumer advocate, joined by the Northeast Ohio Public Energy Council, Northwest Ohio Aggregation Coalition and Edgemont Neighborhood Coalition, recommended that the utility commission, or PUCO, adopt a new rule including language that all utility riders are "subject to reconciliation or adjustment, including but not limited to, increases, decreases or refunds."

These adjustments would be calculated in order to fully compensate customers for charges later deemed "unlawful, unreasonable, or imprudent by the commission in the docket those rates were approved or the Supreme Court of Ohio."

The recommendation comes after the Ohio Supreme Court ruled in June 2019 that an annual distribution rider approved by the PUCO for FirstEnergy Corp.'s Ohio utilities was "unlawful and unreasonable" and must be removed from their electric security plans.

FirstEnergy subsidiaries Ohio Edison Co., Cleveland Electric Illuminating Co. and Toledo Edison Co. began collecting revenue under the originally approved $204 million annual rider Jan. 1, 2017, although they lowered recovery to an estimated $168 million in 2018 and 2019 in response to federal tax reform. Despite the Supreme Court ruling, ratepayers did not receive any refund for money collected under the rider since no refund mechanism was attached.

In a similar case, AES Corp. subsidiary Dayton Power and Light Co. withdrew its electric security plan and reverted to a previously approved rate structure after Ohio regulators directed the utility to terminate its $105 million annual distribution modernization rider.

Ohio's highest court also has struck down service stability and retail stability riders collected by DP&L and American Electric Power Co. Inc. subsidiary AEP Ohio, the trade name of Ohio Power Co.

The OCC pointed out that since 2008, Ohio ratepayers "have lost $1.2 billion in denied refunds for electric charges after Supreme Court reversals of PUCO orders."

(PUCO docket No. 18-276-AU-ORD)