American Electric Power is clashing with consumer advocates over whether there should be public hearings on the utility's request to charge its customers $61.8 million to cover repairs from the June 2012 windstorm. The Office of the Ohio Consumers' Counsel says the size of the bill, the largest of its type in the state's history, means that the public should have a chance to provide testimony.
American Electric Power is clashing with consumer advocates over whether there should be public hearings on the utility’s request to charge its customers $61.8 million to cover repairs from the June 2012 windstorm.
The Office of the Ohio Consumers’ Counsel says the size of the bill, the largest of its type in the state’s history, means that the public should have a chance to provide testimony.
“After the fact of the storms, there needs to be a fair process for the (Public Utilities Commission of Ohio) and parties to review AEP Ohio’s proposed charges, which includes preparation time and public participation, and which should not be constrained by AEP Ohio’s self-interested hyperbole,” the agency said in a filing.
AEP has replied that the counsel’s office is trying to generate public opposition to payments for which the utility is legally entitled.
“OCC’s request for more time is unfair to the company, has real economic implications, is unreasonable based on the history of the case, and OCC’s request for public hearings is nothing more than an attempt to sensationalize an unfortunate situation caused by extreme weather that crippled central Ohio,” AEP said in a filing.
Under the AEP proposal, the utility’s customers would cover the storm-recovery costs with charges added to their electricity bills. A typical household would pay about $3 per month for a year.
The PUCO has been reviewing AEP’s application since January.
In May, the PUCO’s staff said AEP’s request was justified under the law, except for $2.3 million that was used for ball caps and advertising, among other expenses. Much of the money was used to pay contractors to come in from outside Ohio to help with the recovery. The agency’s five-member board will have the final say, likely sometime in the next few months.
At issue are expenses that AEP already has paid, with the expectation of being reimbursed. This is common in utility regulation, in Ohio and across the country.
Without this ability to be repaid, utilities would not be able to spend as much to bring in extra help after major weather events.
After the storm, some consumers lost power for more than a week on some of the hottest days of summer. Many of those people are upset at the idea that they had to suffer through the power failures and then pay for the repairs.
Even if there are no public hearings, consumers can send comments to the PUCO and make them part of the case file. About 50 customers have filed comments for the case, No. 12-3255.
“Now why, exactly, should I have to pay for a company who does not maintain equipment?” said one South Side resident in an email to PUCO.