COLUMBUS – Sub. H.B. 153, the state operating budget bill now before the Ohio House Finance and Appropriations Committee, contains the following provision:
Sec. 4911.02 (C): The counsel shall not advocate or otherwise promote any position contrary to development of competitive markets in this state, including the policies of this state as set forth in Chapter 4929 of the Revised Code.
Committee Chair Ron Amstutz has not explained how this provision ended up in the bill. Nor have any lobbyists stepped forward to take credit for it. The part of the Ohio Revised Code cited in the provision, Chapter 4929, only applies to natural gas companies. The provision does not mention Chapter 4928, on competitive retail electric service, or Chapter 4927, on alternative regulation of telecommunications.
— Paul Ryder, Organizing Director, Ohio Citizen Action
How would such a provision be enforced? Are sheriff’s deputies to be stationed in the PUCO chamber to arrest the Consumers’ Counsel if her words cross the line? Is there a single example of the Consumers’ Counsel advocating that the Public Utilities Commission violate any chapter of the Ohio Revised Code?
COLUMBUS — “Ohio Consumers’ Counsel Janine Migden-Ostrander on Friday begged the House Finance Committee to reconsider plans to cut the OCC budget in half, remove its contact info from utility bills, merge its call center with the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio and restrict positions the agency can take in legal cases. . . .
The agency, which represents 4.5 million households in utility cases, now operates with a staff of 75 and a two-year budget of $8.5 million. The proposed budget calls for a 51 percent decrease. The OCC worked 292 legal cases last year, helped 1,300 household avoid shut off, and won a case last week in which the Ohio Supreme Court said American Electric Power overcharged its customers by $850 million. OCC is now seeking to get that money returned to customers. Migden-Ostrander calculated that the OCC had a hand in saving consumers $1.9 billion over the last two years. She asked lawmakers to consider a two-year “time-out” during which the state auditor could conduct a thorough, independent performance audit of the agency.”
AEP’s Muskingum River plant. photo by Art Smith, The Marietta Times
Our nation is in the midst of a transition away from dependence on coal-fired electricity. Markets are shifting as coal is replaced by natural gas, as the country moves away from the deplorable practice of mountaintop removal coal mining, as businesses and consumers are purchasing energy efficient appliances, machinery, decreasing the electricity usage, and demanding renewable energy sources, and as the “endless supply” of coal seems to be much less than previously thought. Ohio can play a pivotal role in accelerating the shift away from our dirtiest form of energy. Ohio has more installed coal-fired generating capacity than any state in the nation, including 18 plants that have over 200 megawatt capacity. While some of the plants have upgraded their pollution controls, many have not. American Electric Power’s Muskingum River Power Plant, located on the Muskingum River in Beverly, Ohio, is an older coal plant with very limited pollution control technology. This plant should be replaced by cleaner energy sources.
The most recent pollution data for Muskingum is from 2010. All numbers are in pounds:
Total air emissions
Sulfur dioxide (SO2) emissions
Nitrogen oxides (NOx) emissions
% of SO2 and NOx
The Muskingum plant has a total of five electricity producing units with a combined 1,529 megawatts. In 2010, the entire plant released 141,030 pounds per megawatt.
In 2008, AEP installed pollution controls for nitrogen oxides on unit 5. No other pollution controls are currently being installed on unit 5. Units 1-4 do not have any modern pollution controls.
Coal-fired plants make people sick
Coal pollution damages all major body organ systems and contributes to four of the five leading causes of death in the United States: heart disease, cancer, stroke and chronic lower respiratory diseases, according to Physicians for Social Responsibility. Ohio ranks first in the nation in toxic air pollution with coal-fired power plants as the major contributor. Ohio ranks second in the nation in deaths from coal plants.
The market is shifting away from coal
We are already in the midst of a transition away from coal in the U.S. The overall demand for electricity in Ohio is likely to remain flat, and energy efficiency is most cost-effective method to deal with demand. Alternatives and renewables are being developed in Ohio right now. Natural gas prices are low and are expected to remain there for many years. The utility industry has begun identifying coal plants that they consider “vulnerable”- those coal plants that are smaller, older and cannot meet future regulatory upgrades, and the medium-sized ones that may or may not be able to meet the coming regulatory upgrades but doing so would not be economically feasible in this climate. AEP has already upgraded other coal plants with modern technology, but continuing to do so for the rest of their outdated coal plants would not be cost effective. The economic part of the decision to retrofit or replace a coal plant is major: technical experts have estimated that a 500 MW plant, if it needed all of the possible future regulatory controls, may spend $392.5 million at just one plant ($785/kw.) This cost would be passed on to rate payers.
Future regulations would make it very expensive - for the ratepayers – to operate this dirty old coal plant
Possible future federal regulations may make old coal plants too expensive to operate. It is most likely that any additional costs to maintain and upgrade these old coal plants would be passed along directly to ratepayers. There are four regulatory proposals that both industry and citizen groups believe could affect the operations at old coal plants, depending upon what is adopted and enforced:
Coal ash regulations
The USEPA proposed two competing coal ash regulations. One, favored by citizen and citizen groups, would regulate coal ash as a hazardous waste and provide stringent, enforceable rules for coal ash. The other, favored by industry, would not classify coal ash as a hazardous waste and would not provide enforceable standards. Eight public hearings were held in the fall of 2010, and the EPA received over 400,000 comments about the proposed coal ash regulations. The EPA is in the decision-making part of the process now. Congress, meanwhile, is attempting to not allow funding for the strongest of the two proposed regulations on coal ash.
Clean Air Transport Rule
This proposal would require significant reductions in sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides emissions that cross state lines. These pollutants react in the atmosphere to form fine particles and ground-level ozone and are transported long distances, affecting the health of people inside and outside of Ohio. The Clean Air Transport Rule could be issued in draft form early this year.
Maximum Achievable Control Technology rules for mercury at fossil fuel power plants
This would limit mercury emissions from coal plants. A draft of the regulation was released March 16, 2011. According to the U.S. EPA the regulation as drafted would cut U.S. mercury emissions by more than half and would significantly cut other pollutants from boilers, process heaters and solid waste incinerators. These pollutants include several air toxics that are known or suspected to cause cancer or other serious health problems and environmental damage. The proposed rules are estimated to yield more than 5 dollars in public health benefits for every dollar spent. We are currently in the 45-day comment period. The final could be issued before the end of the year.
Experts estimate that if a medium-sized 500-megawatt plant needed all of the future pollution controls it could cost an estimated $785 per kilowatt. Any potential upgrades at Muskingum would be paid for by AEP’s ratepayers.
AEP was court ordered to clean up or retire Ohio coal plants
In October, 2007, AEP settled a lawsuit, agreeing to eliminate 1,626,000,000 pounds of air pollution and save $32 billion in annual health care costs. The settlement lists five Ohio coal plants, including the Muskingum River Power Plant.
Parts of AEP’s coal plant fleet in Ohio have been modernized with scrubbers and other pollution controls to limit the amount of sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, soot and other pollution. 80% of the Muskingum River Power Plant has not been given these upgrades.
In AEP’s 2010 Fact Book, the company lists unit 5 of the Muskingum plant’s nitrogen oxide pollution control as ‘in-service’ but does not list any other upgrades. Units 1-4, the dirtiest and oldest parts of this plant, are not listed for any upgrades. This plant needs to be retired now.
Organizers from Ohio Citizen Action stand with Larry Gibson with the Kayford Mountain MTR site in the background: Rachel Taylor, Nora Lardner, Larry Gibson, Nathan Rutz, Carla Roth, Alison Auciello. Kneeling: Jennifer Roddis and Molly Lutz.
I had a great weekend in Chicago a few weeks ago with leaders from across the midwest who were getting trained to be coaches and facilitators at Power Shift 2011. Among them was Nathan Rutz, a very well spoken and kind person from OCA. I had met him just a few weeks before on a night out with Danny Berchenko (who else, right?). Near the end of the conference, Nathan mentioned that OCA was going to see Kayford Mountain, the legendary MTR site where Larry Gibson, Keeper of the Mountains, lived. Seeing Kayford seemed like a ‘right of passage’ for every person who organizes to stop coal. I hesitated and I squirmed, because I know it’s not pretty.”
COLUMBUS — “The Ohio Consumers’ Counsel, which represents more than 4 million residential utility customers, is still on deck to see its power and clout curtailed. The Kasich administration called for a 50 percent funding cut to the OCC. The House also wants to restrict positions the counsel can take on issues and wants to merge the Consumers’ Counsel’s call center with the one run by the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio and remove the OCC contact info from utility bills.”
WARREN — “Now that the multi-billion-dollar Baard Energy project in Columbiana County is pretty much dead, the Mahoning Valley’s effort to turn natural gas into an economic heyday becomes more important. Although Baard’s coal liquification plant was to be constructed in and around Wellsville, the impact of what was once tabbed the largest economic development project in the U.S. at $6 billion would be felt even here in Trumbull County. However, the plan to turn coal in Columbiana County into liquid fuel mainly for jets is now on life support after the largest investor halted payments for land acquisition.”
LOUISVILLE, KY —Mirroring a national trend toward cleaner air, Louisville Gas and Electric Co. and Kentucky Utilities are making initial plans to retire coal-burning units at three aging power plants within five years, including the Cane Run station in western Louisville.
According to long-range planning documents filed late last week with the Public Service Commission, the other two plants that could shut down coal-fired operations by 2016 are KU’s Green River plant in Central City in Western Kentucky, and KU’s Tyrone station in Versailles, which has already been mothballed temporarily.
The changes, if they happen, could improve air quality in the Louisville area and lessen conflicts with Cane Run plant neighbors, who complain of blowing soot and toxic ash getting on and into their homes.
‘From a breathing standpoint, less coal being burned is better,’ said Matt Stull, spokesman for the Louisville Metro Air Pollution Control District.”
Janine Migden-Ostrander, the Ohio Consumers’ Counsel, heads the office that advocates on consumers’ behalf on issues involving the state’s utilities.
COLUMBUS — “The Office of the Ohio Consumers’ Counsel (OCC) was established in 1976 as the sole statutory representative of Ohio’s electric, natural gas, telephone and water residential customers. Our office has a great story to tell about benefits the OCC has provided all utility customers to ensure utility rates are fair and affordable.
During the current budget biennium period, the OCC through its direct efforts has saved customers $54.8 million in potential rate increases. When the OCC has taken a lead role in collaboration with other stakeholders, it has produced shared savings of $1.9 billion over this same time period. Often, we have participated in negotiated agreements providing flexibility for all stakeholders to find solutions and give value back to customers.
When we succeed in reducing revenue increases, the benefits flow to business and industrial customers, as well as residential customers. For example, when $10 million are reduced from an electric rate proposal, 60 percent of the savings go to businesses, small and large. In this way, our work contributes to job retention and economic development.
The OCC is funded through the gross receipts of public utilities, not the general revenue fund. A cut to the OCC’s budget will not help balance the budget or impact the deficit. Rather, the dollars cut from our budget return to the utilities.
With an annual budget of $8.5 million, the OCC’s savings through reduced rate increases provide a return on investment of which we are proud.”
Advocate wants $175 million rate reduction, or refund
COLUMBUS — “If the choice is pay me now or pay me later, American Electric Power customers should get immediate rate relief, the Ohio Consumers’ Counsel told state regulators yesterday.
In a filing with the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio, the Consumers’ Counsel said AEP customers should see a $175 million reduction in rates questioned last week in a ruling by the Ohio Supreme Court. The alternatives would be making rates subject to refund or putting them in escrow.
The counsel estimated the questioned rates for Columbus Southern Power residential customers who use 750 kilowatt-hours of electricity would result in a $5.56 reduction per month. Ohio Power residential customers with the same electricity consumption would see rate reductions of $5.05 per month. Both companies are AEP affiliates.
The $175 million is the amount customers would pay for the remaining nine months the challenged rates are in effect.”
YELLOW SPRINGS — “Yellow Springs’ greening was partly intentional and partly a matter of circumstance. The southwestern Ohio town of 3,400 eschewed the path of continued fossil fuel burning in 2007 when it considered, concurrently, an offer to build a coal plant and a recommendation to upgrade its electric infrastructure to handle an electricity consumption increase.
The village first decided to commit to energy conservation and efficiency gains rather than invest in a $2- to $3-million upgrade because of residents’ concern over climate change and the high future cost of energy. The village council then voted 3–2 to reject an offer from American Municipal Power, a wholesale power supplier for municipal electric systems, to buy into a 960-megawatt, conventional coal-fired power plant to be built in Southeast Ohio. Yellow Springs was the first town, followed by Oberlin and Westerville, to say no to the plant, which was cancelled in 2009. The environmental organization Ohio Citizen Action now credits Yellow Springs with beginning a successful statewide movement among communities to stop the proposed plant from being built.”
— Megan Quinn Bachman, EcoWatch Megan Quinn Bachman is an Ohio Citizen Action alumni.
The inspectors want to to figure out what happened and whether mistakes were made.
The incident occurred Friday as four contract workers pulled a radiation monitor from the reactor core. The plant shut down April 18 for refueling and maintenance.
While removing the monitor, workers identified an increase in radiation, the NRC said in a statement late Tuesday. ‘The workers stopped and immediately left the area when the higher-than-expected levels were identified,’ NRC spokeswoman Viktoria Mitlyng said.
Company spokesman Todd Schneider said the contractors ‘did not use the proper method to remove the monitor. We need to improve our oversight.’”
The health-advocacy group’s ‘State of the Air 2011′ report gives F’s for smog to Franklin, Delaware and Madison counties and a D to Licking County. The counties got the same marks for smog last year.
Some improvement was noted in Franklin County. The county’s grade for short-term soot pollution improved from a D to a C, and there were fewer days in which smog or soot pollution posed a health threat.
‘We’re seeing a nice gradual reduction in air pollution,’ said Shelly Kiser, a spokeswoman for the American Lung Association in Ohio. ‘This shows the Clean Air Act is working.’”
WELLSVILLE — “After more than its share of fits and starts, the long-awaited Baard Energy project near Wellsville is once again on hold.
Directors with the Columbiana County Port Authority said they have been told to stop any further purchase of land for the project until a deal can be reached between executives of Baard and their financiers, Planck Trading, over future investments as well as the sharing of future revenues from the development.
‘It’s obviously frustrating from the county’s point of view and the region’s point of view that this project is again on hold. We would like to see them work their issues out, but we just don’t know. So we’re standing by as patiently as we can,’ said Columbiana County Port Authority Director Tracy Drake.”
Cleveland Public Power is proposing to build a new “waste-to-energy” plant at the Ridge Road Transfer Station. The plant, which would be classified as a municipal waste incinerator, would “gasify” waste in a combustion process, and use the gas to run a small electric power generating plant. Clevelanders must ask whether this facility will be good for Cleveland and the region, and whether the facility will provide net public health, economic, and sustainability benefits, as compared with feasible alternatives. The City has provided some information, but too much is tentative to provide a firm basis for reasonable projections of the facility’s impact. Here are some key questions:
What will the project cost, and what will those costs mean for city residents?
The City has released figures saying the facility will cost $180 million, including the cost of building a facility to collect garbage and sort recyclables, along with gasification and the power plant. However, the City has said these costs are not yet firm and that financing has not been worked out yet. Because Cleveland Public Power would be committed to purchasing electricity from the new plant, it would be stuck with the costs no matter what they are – and CPP is already losing its competitive edge with FirstEnergy. Last year, Cleveland added a new trash fee for residents – and if costs for this project go up, the City has not said what effect it would have on trash fees.
The goal of the presentation and discussion is develop community understanding about the economic development that is based on reuse, recycling, composting implemented by government agencies, private companies and community development organizations.
The meeting will include a presentation by Mr. Neil Seldman, Institute for Local Self-Reliance and a discussion on the City of Cleveland’s plans to develop a waste-to-energy gasification facility.
Letters to Senator Sherrod Brown and Senator Rob Portman
6,615 members have sent handwritten letters and petitions to Senator Brown urging him to support US EPA rules that will protect our health from polluting coal plants as of January 24, 2012.
3,751 members have petitioned Senator Portman urging him to support US EPA rules that will protect our health from polluting coal plants as of January 24, 2012.
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