Regulators open door for Ohio utilities to promote 'green' energy

WILLOUGHBY, OHIO - Customers of Ohio's two largest utilities soon will be able to show financial support for the development of renewable energy facilities, if a proposal by the Ohio Consumers' Counsel is approved.

The OCC said customers of FirstEnergy Corp. and American Electric Power should be able to encourage the use of renewable energy, through the purchase of environmentally sound "green" options, in a recent filing at the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio.

Under the OCC's proposal, green options would entail the purchase of renewable energy credits, said Ryan Lippe, an OCC spokesman. Those credits are bought and sold by many utilities and power producers and reflect renewable power generated throughout the country. The credit system supports the development of renewable energy facilities.

While state Renewable Portfolio Standards require some utilities to produce a portion of their power with renewables like hydro, solar and wind energy, Ohio has not implemented such a standard.

"Even though we might not be producing green energy, you're at least devoting support to the overall effort," Lippe said.

Lippe said the OCC supports a measure like a Renewable Portfolio Standard to make sure the state is ready to meet current and future energy needs with cost and the environment in mind.

The OCC also requested that a cost-benefit analysis be conducted to decide whether a competitive bid in AEP and FirstEnergy territories for standard power would be advantageous for customers.

"A green option would allow residents to support renewable energy and know that a portion of their new rate would be dedicated to furthering the need for greater energy independence and a better environment," Ohio Consumers' Counsel Janine Migden-Ostrander said in a news release. "We believe our proposal addresses the legal requirement that consumers have an alternative option to their current rates."

OCC officials say they made the filing after the state Supreme Court took issue in 2006 with the PUCO's approval of FirstEnergy and AEP rate plans.

The court returned the plans to the PUCO because it believed the commission did not offer customers a choice between continuing to purchase power generated by the companies at market-based rates or opting to obtain power from other companies at competitive bidding- based prices.

PUCO spokeswoman Shana Eiselstein says the commission in September received a plan filing by AEP for its competitive bid option, which offers both green and standard power.

FirstEnergy spokeswoman Ellen Raines says the marketplace will determine the demand for offering a green option. Upon a demand increase, she says FirstEnergy is "prepared to become one of the largest providers" of renewable options like wind power.

"We don't see any problem with a green option offered by these companies," Eiselstein said. "We have to look at all comments from all parties, but essentially our goal is to comply with the Supreme Court remand and put forth this competitive bid option to the customers.

"The Commission will have to look at all of that and make a final determination."

According to AEP's Web site, the utility serves about 1.5 million customers in 61 of Ohio's 88 counties, while Raines says FirstEnergy provides power for about 2 million people in mostly northern and central Ohio.


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