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Ohio regulator orders investigation into Duke Energy Ohio's disconnection policy

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Ohio regulator orders investigation into Duke Energy Ohio's disconnection policy

The Public Utilities Commission of Ohio ordered an investigation into Duke Energy Ohio Inc.'s disconnection practices after finding that the utility failed to comply with the state's winter heating season disconnection requirements.

In an Oct. 11 ruling, the commission concluded that "a comprehensive review of Duke's disconnection policies and procedures is necessary" and moved to enlist an auditor to conduct the investigation, which would encompass both the Duke Energy Corp. utility's gas and electric services in the state.

The company said Oct. 12 that it would work with the regulator and auditors but that it complies with state rules related to disconnecting customers.

"We adhere to applicable regulations and orders and have a long history of engaging with customers to explore available options for avoiding a disconnection of their service," Duke Energy spokeswoman Sally Thelen said. "As in any other PUCO audit, Duke Energy Ohio will fully cooperate with commission staff. We believe our disconnect policies and procedures adhere to commission regulations."

The investigation was based on an August court ruling that found that Duke Energy Ohio did not follow the state requirements for disconnection during the winter heating season, resulting in the deaths of two people in a home that had its heat cut off in 2011, according to an Oct. 11 report by The Columbus Dispatch.

The commission also directed Duke to shoulder the costs of the investigative audit and enter into a contract with the auditor, which commission staff will select. Though the auditor will act as an independent contractor, it will "execute its duties pursuant to the [commission's] statutory authority to investigate and acquire records, contracts, reports and other documentation."

Customer advocates have previously expressed that Duke Energy Ohio had a high number of disconnections, which indicated that the utility is not complying with state rules, The Columbus Dispatch reported.