Staff members of the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio allowed officials of utility company AEP to redact parts of an audit into the operations of the Ohio Valley Electric Corp., a series of emails between PUCO staff and AEP show.

The emails were introduced last week in the case surrounding the first audit into the effects of Ohio’s HB 6 law, the 2019 legislation that required Ohio electricity customers to pay a surcharge to subsidize the operations of OVEC’s two coal-fired power plants.

The emails were actually part of an audit into the 2018-2019 riders that required customers to pay extra to support OVEC. A Sept. 2, 2020, email from auditor Marie Fagan of London Economics International (LEI) to AEP official Edward Locigno said: “This is to confirm that LEI provided the draft OVEC report to the Commission staff. The process now, as I understand it, that staff will review and after that we will provide it to AEP Ohio for redacting.”

In another email to Fagan, PUCO staffer Mahila Christopher recommended watering down the audit to achieve “a milder tone and intensity of language.” Existence of that email was reported in October 2021 after the scandal surrounding HB 6 blew up in 2020.

PUCO stonewalling on staffers’ names

Last November, Checks & Balances Project requested the names of the PUCO staff that recommended granting a protective order that allowed key details of the LEI audit to be removed. C&BP also filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request for the names that was also denied.

The latest filing in the HB 6 audit case mentioned Christopher and PUCO Rodney Windle.

The protective order granted July 7, 2023, removed multiple pieces of information from the LEI audit, including details that are already publicly available, including the OVEC’s annual net income, the companies that supplied coal to OVEC and the prices they charged.

C&BP reporting has shown that one OVEC coal supplier, Resource Fuels of Columbus, was overcharging OVEC for coal. It was paid more for supplying less coal from the same mine that another company was supplying. Resource Fuels and its owners, Wayne and Cynthia Boich, were some of the major donors to the political fund that bribed former Ohio House speaker Larry Householder, who is now serving a 20-year federal prison sentence.

The latest filings show that PUCO staff allowed the companies that share ownership of OVEC, also known as the sponsoring companies, to determine which information it wanted to cloak from the public. Filings from AEP and other sponsoring companies claimed that routinely available information was somehow a trade secret.

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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