Ohio consumer advocates and major utility customers want the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio to disclose more information from the audit into the effects of Ohio’s scandal-plagued HB 6 law.

The Ohio Consumers’ Counsel and major consumers, including grocery giant Kroger, filed motions with PUCO this week seeking the end to the protective order granted last July that redacted key parts of the audit into the effects of HB 6. The law requires Ohio electricity customers to subsidize the operations of two coal-fired power plants owned by the Ohio Valley Electric Corp. (OVEC).

“The PUCO must now decide whether the public has a right to know information about the H.B. 6 subsidies that relate back to a 2021 audit report issued by the PUCO-appointed auditor,” says the motion filed by the Ohio Consumers’ Counsel. “The answer should be yes, the public has a right to know. The PUCO should lift the shroud of secrecy the utilities have insisted upon over the last two years.”

OVEC is owned by a consortium of utilities known as “sponsoring companies.”

“Each Sponsoring Company bears its own burden of proof to demonstrate that the costs it incurred during the Audit Period related to the continued operation of the OVEC coal plants, as well as its actions, were reasonable, prudent, and in the best interests of customers,” said the motion by the Ohio Manufacturers’ Association Energy Group and the Kroger Co.

Many of the details removed from the public version of the audit by London Economics International (LEI) were already public information, including the name of the company that has been overpaid for the coal it supplied OVEC.

Checks & Balances Project has reported that the redactions made by the protective order hid the identity of Resource Fuels, the Columbus-based coal company that made $12.6 million more for the coal it supplied OVEC in 2020 than another company that provided more coal to OVEC from the same mine.

Resource Fuels and its owner, Wayne Boich, were some of the earliest donors to the dark-money political fund that bribed former Ohio House speaker Larry Householder to pass HB 6 in 2019. Householder is now serving a 20-year federal prison sentence for his role in the HB 6 scandal.

New opposition to protective order

OCC and the customers’ opposition to the protective order is notable, because they had previously not objected to the utilities’ December 2021 motions that claimed key details in the audit were trade secrets that needed to be removed. C&BP has reported that many of those details, such as the name of Resource Fuels, the amount it charged for coal and OVEC’s annual net income were already public information.

The U.S. Energy Information Administration routinely publishes the names of the companies that supply coal to the nation’s power plants and how much the companies charge. That information comes from the utilities themselves.

OVEC publishes its net income on its website.

New attempts to hide information

Although the sponsoring companies have acknowledged that some of the information covered by the protective order no longer needs to be redacted, at least one persists in trying to limit access to other details that are also available elsewhere.

Ohio Power, also known as AEP Ohio, claims details about the capacity factor and heat rates of OVEC’s two plants must remained hidden from the public. “As with capacity factor, although heat rate information is publicly available at the overall plant level, the Audit Report provides that data at the unit level. OVEC keeps this unit level data confidential because it could be used by competitive parties to alter offer strategies and dispatch,” the company’s Jan. 4 motion said.

Capacity factor refers to the amount of time a plant is producing power. The lower the factor, the less able the plant is to keep operating. Environmental and consumers advocates have cited a plant’s low capacity factor as a reason for closing it.

Heat rate measures the plant’s efficiency in generating electricity. The higher the rate, the less efficient a plant is operating. High heat rates are often cited as reasons to close coal plants.

However, capacity factor and heat rate data are already included in the publicly available LEI audit. It specifically mentions the heat rates for three separate units at the two plants and that both plants had heat rates that were less efficient than the average for plants in the region.

The same data have been cited in news releases from bond rating agency Fitch in its reports on the debt issued by OVEC to help pay for improvements at the Clifty Creek and Kyger Creek power plants.

Instead of issuing an order to redacts all capacity factor and heat rate data, PUCO could release the plant-level details and not for the individual units.

Fitch said last month that it was maintaining OVEC’s credit rating, because of the HB 6 subsidies and the capacity factor and heat rates for its power plants.

Ray Locker is the executive director for Checks & Balances Project, an investigative watchdog blog holding government officials, lobbyists, and corporate management accountable to the public. Funding for C&BP is provided by Renew American Prosperity and individual donors.

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