- The first day of hearings in FirstEnergy's power plant subsidy case yielded some surprises, the Cleveland Plain Dealer reports. Under the company's request for taxpayer support for its final coal plant and one nuclear facility, unexpected costs would go to consumers, instead of being absorbed by the company.
- If costs were to rise in the next 15 years at FirstEnergy's coal facility or Davis-Besse nuclear plant, customers would be stuck paying those bills under the proposal, company representatives acknowledged under questioning from environmental groups.
- And despite objections from FirstEnergy lawyers, the revelation came as National Geographic filmed the proceeding for a documentary on coal and climate change.
There will likely be weeks of hearings into FirstEnergy's new rates, with a decision not due out until next May, but the Plain Dealer reports the opening day had plenty of interesting revelations. And if you couldn't make it down to the PUCO's offices, never fear: all of this could wind up in a National Geographic documentary.
Describing "two hours of persistent cross examination by Sierra Club lawyer Shannon Fisk," the newspaper reported there would be limits on the information regulators could ask for in the event costs unexpectedly rose. An official from the company testified that the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio would be able to request information from utilities Illuminating Co., Ohio Edison and Toledo Edison, but would be barred from asking questions directly to the owner of the power plants, FirstEnergy Solutions.
Regulators would also be unable to audit expenses at FES, company officials said.
Included in the rate case are proposals designed to guarantee income for FirstEnergy's aging power plants. Under pressure from cheap natural gas, the company has said the plants' futures are in jeaopardy without subsidies from ratepayers.
The hearing also revealed that customers would pay more than $450 million extra for the power contracts in the first years, or about $70 per average residential customer in the first three years.
The Plain Dealer also notes that, despite objections from FirstEnergy lawyers a camera crew from National Geographic was allowed to film the hearing for a documentary series titled "Years of Living Dangerously," on climate change.
FirstEnergy has been on a public relations offensive in recent weeks to drum up support for subsidies for its two plants. The company says its plan will be cheaper – in the long-term – for consumers, as natural gas prices will eventually rise. While the first three years would be more expensive, the company believes that across more than a decade the proposal will save customers $2 billion.