December 17, 2014

Sierra Club Slams Ohio Utilities with More 'No Coal Bailouts' Advertising

As opposition grows against the sweeping coal plant bailout cases before the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio (PUCO), Sierra Club is blanketing the state again with new ads slamming state utilities for trying to prop up their outdated plants by increasing electricity costs on customers' bills. Statewide radio ads, direct mail pieces, online ads and animated web gifs accompany a new suite of aggressive curbside kiosk ads in downtown Columbus . This new round of advertising will continue to hit the state throughout the holiday season.

Since August, the "No Coal Bailouts" campaign has garnered and submitted thousands of petitions to the PUCO. In October, a group of 12 Ohio businesses, including Lowe's Home Improvement, Staples Inc. and Macy's Inc. , sent a letter urging regulators to reject the bailouts proposal. The businesses cited a new poll by Public Policy Partners showing a strong percentage of Ohio electricity customers favor clean, renewable energy sources to power the state -- and do not support paying more to keep aging coal plants in operation.

"These monopoly utilities are trying to ditch free market principles and make Ohio electricity customers pay for outdated, polluting, dead-end coal plants," said Allison Fisher of Public Citizen, a consumer organization that has joined the fight against the bailouts. "Coal is becoming less and less competitive, and it's unfair to force Ohioans to pay for something they don't want."

The campaign focuses on Columbus -based American Electric Power (AEP), Cincinnati -based Duke Energy and Akron -based FirstEnergy , whose requests for bailouts encompass all of Ohio's remaining coal plants. While most states are focusing new investments in clean energy, Ohio utilities are working to increase their reliance on dangerous fossil fuels following the passage of Senate Bill 310, a controversial new law that guts Ohio's renewable energy and energy efficiency standards. A Columbus Dispatch investigation recently revealed state officials buried a report on green jobs that could have influenced the outcome of the clean energy and efficiency-gutting bill. FirstEnergy , in the wake of its bailout requests, was the only Ohio utility to request eliminating energy efficiency programs following SB 310, and last month, the PUCO approved the request.

According to Ohio Consumers' Counsel testimony earlier this year in AEP's pending case, the utility was seeking to charge Ohio customers an estimated $117 million to bail out two coal plants that were built in the early 1950s -- Kyger Creek in Cheshire, Ohio , and Clifty Creek in Madison, Ind. The coal plants are not competitive with today's market prices for electricity. Meanwhile, AEP has since added four more coal plants to its bailout request. The measure, if approved by the PUCO, would guarantee AEP a revenue stream for its aging coal plants, forcing other electricity generators to compete in an unfair market that benefits AEP and makes customers' electric bills higher than they should be.

In hearings that have recently concluded, Duke Energy requested a similar bailout for its coal plants, but for an even longer period of time. FirstEnergy has also requested bailouts to continue operating its outdated plants, including the Davis Besse nuclear plant and W. H. Sammis , a coal plant that the Environmental Protection Agency has labeled as one of the worst polluters in the state.

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