The Public Utilities Commission of Ohio granted a protective order in its ongoing audit into the effects of the HB 6 law, based largely on the utilities’ claims of trade secrecy and the lack of any opposition to those claims, according to a revised protective order issued last week.

“The existing protective order was granted, in part, based on the fact that the moving parties [the utilities that own the Ohio Valley Electric Corp.] averred that the information was not available in the public domain,” said the revised order issued by PUCO Attorney Examiner Megan Addison. 

Several times in her order, which authorized the disclosure of some information previously redacted from the audit, Addison mentioned how the utilities’ December 2021 motions were not challenged by any of the interested parties in the case, which include consumer groups and industry organizations. Addison granted the original protective order on July 7, 2023.

However, as Checks & Balances Project reporting has shown, many of the claims from OVEC’s owners were false and misleading, as they claimed that routinely publicly available information was a trade secret. C&BP also reported that still-unnamed PUCO staff members recommended granting the protective order without any detailed review.

PUCO has denied a Freedom of Information Act from C&BP seeking the names of the staff members who recommended the original order.

Protective order cloaked critical audit details

It was only after consumer and industry groups were able to review the private version of the audit by London Economics International (LEI) did they determine that some of the details hidden by the protective order were actually already public information.

Testimony submitted by outside analysts last October revealed the name of the company that was overcharging OVEC for coal at its Clifty Creek power plant, the price of that coal and the name of the other company that was charging far less for coal from the same mine.

Those details can be found in annual reports filed by OVEC to the federal Energy Information Administration, which routinely publishes the details on its website.

The utilities, also known as the sponsoring companies, also claimed that OVEC’s net income was a trade secret, even though it is available on OVEC’s website.

A very accommodating PUCO

Filings have shown the PUCO staff has been very accommodating to the requests of the sponsoring companies to hide details of OVEC’s operations.

Last week, a filing by the Ohio Manufacturers’ Association Energy Group revealed emails that showed the PUCO staff members allowed officials of utility company AEP to redact parts of an audit into OVEC’s operations.

Emails between PUCO staff and LEI auditors show how the staff urged auditors to tone down the conclusions in their work, including the conclusion that “keeping the plants running does not seem to be in the best interests of the ratepayers.”

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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