Power customers get reprieve from increases

OHIO - Utility regulators have given electricity customers across Ohio a reprieve from higher prices, knocking down a proposed rate increase from FirstEnergy Corp. and ruling that American Electric Power maintain current rates through February 2009.

FirstEnergy customers, on average, will not see rate increases next year, Public Utilities Commission of Ohio Chairman Alan Schriber said. And Ohio customers of American Electric Power will not see an increase at least into February after the utilities commission decided not to implement increases seen at the beginning of the past three years.

Large increases for AEP customers could be coming in February, however.

The rulings were welcome news to residential and business consumers who are concerned about rising electricity prices at the same time the economy is shrinking.

"Paramount in our minds was the economic downturn that has befallen Ohioans," Schriber said.

FirstEnergy had asked the commission to allow it to go from a current rate of 6.8 cents per kilowatt-hour to 7.5 cents in 2009, 8 cents in 2010 and 8.5 cents in 2011. But the commission approved 6.75 cents for 2009, 6.9 cents for 2010 and 7.1 cents for 2011.

Those rates cover the power generation portion of the bill. Distribution rates are additional and currently average another 5 cents.

FirstEnergy spokeswoman Ellen Raines said the company has the right to reject the rate plan under a new utility law that went into effect earlier this year.

If the company files a counterproposal, today's rates continue in the meantime.

"We are reviewing the modifications the commission made," Raines said. "We want to make sure the modifications preserve the balance between keeping electricity affordable for our customers and providing a rate of return on our investments."

FirstEnergy operates the nation's fifth largest investor-owned electric system with 4.5 million customers in New Jersey, Ohio and Pennsylvania. Most of the company's Ohio customers are in the northern half of the state.

AEP customers won't see the single-digit percentage increases they saw at the beginning of the past three years. But the company and its customers are still waiting to see how the utilities commission rules on a proposed 52 percent rate hike over the next three years.

AEP had asked that its rates stay the same for now. But if the commission approves the rate hike proposal in February, the company wants those rates to be applied retroactively to the beginning of 2009, said spokeswoman Terri Flora.

The three-year rate hike — which consists of a compounding 15 percent increase each year over the previous year — is opposed by the manufacturing industry and the Ohio Consumers' Counsel.

"The PUCO has kept rates from increasing on at least a temporary basis, which is consistent with our office’s recommendations and with Ohio law," said Ohio Consumers' Counsel Janine Migden-Ostrander. "However, we continue to oppose AEP's pending long-term electric security plan that would increase rates by more than 50 percent over three years."

AEP Ohio serves about 1.5 million customers in 61 of Ohio's 88 counties and in the northern panhandle of West Virginia.



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