The Public Utilities Commission of Ohio acknowledged Friday what Checks & Balances Project has reported over the last few weeks: Much of the information redacted from an audit into the effects of Ohio’s HB 6 law no longer deserves protection.

The ruling by PUCO Attorney Examiner Megan Addison concluded ““that it appears certain information contained in the redacted LEI audit reports is available in the public domain.”

London Economics International (LEI) was hired by PUCO to conduct an audit into HB 6, the 2019 law that requires Ohio electricity customers to subsidize two money-losing, coal-fired power plants owned by the Ohio Valley Electric Corp. (OVEC).

The ruling cited three items in the LEI audit that can “be replicated utilizing public information”— the amount of coal consumed by OVEC power plants vs projections, the weighted contract prices for coal procured and coal transportation prices.

Addison set a Dec. 29 deadline for parties in the case to make specific claims about what information in the audit still needed to be kept secret. “Any information that is currently subject to the protective order but is not identified by the moving parties will be considered by the Commission as no longer subject to the protective order and will be released at that time,” she ruled.

Redacted information named OVEC coal supplier

The protective order issued July 7 removed the name of the companies that supplied coal to OVEC’s plants, including Resource Fuels of Columbus. Testimony submitted to PUCO in October said Resource Fuels was overpaid for the coal it supplied OVEC.

While the protective order removed Resource Fuels’ name from the audit, its relationship to OVEC and Clifty Creek was already included in reports filed online by the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

As C&BP wrote Thursday, PUCO staff members accepted the claims from three utilities —  Duke Energy OhioDayton Power and Light and Ohio Power – that the LEI audit contained trade secrets that, if made public, would damage their financial health.

However, C&BP reported that much of the information contained in the audit was already public when the motions for protective order were filed in December 2021. That included details about the financial health of the Ohio Valley Electric Corp. (OVEC), the names of the companies supplying coal to OVEC’s power plants and the prices paid for that coal.

Details about OVEC’s finances are already available on the company’s website.

PUCO denies FOIA request

PUCO denied C&BP’s Freedom of Information Act request seeking the names of PUCO staffers who recommended the protective order.

C&BP’s request was too broad, PUCO staff attorney Ashley Hively said Friday.

C&BP filed the FOIA request after PUCO denied an earlier attempt to learn the staffers’ names.

The protective order isn’t the first time PUCO staff have shielded utilities tied to HB 6 from scrutiny.

In September 2020, PUCO staffer Mahila Christopher emailed auditors asking them to use a “milder tone and intensity” when describing the HB 6 bailouts. Changes sought by PUCO staff were made in the final version of the audit.

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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