UPDATE: 02/03/2010 AT 09:30 AM
The SCPR, this morning, spoke with Elaine Ochsenhirt (one of two FirstEnergy Solutions representatives who appeared at Jackson Township earlier this week).
Ms. Ochsenhirt claims that the 9 year lock-in period (referred to in the main blog) has nothing to do with First Energy knowing something that is coming down the pike in terms of competition and wanting to advantage itself with the 9 year lock-in.
She was unable to provide any clarification as to why, as a FES spokesperson at the Jackson meeting, FE is not willing to spread the $250,000 civic grant among FE/OE electric users rather than pay it to Jackson trustees.
In a shocking statement, she said that yours truly probably knew more about Ohio Edison than she does.
Although Ochsenhirt could talk at length answering the questions of Jackson's public officials, she kept telling the SCPR that she was "not allowed" to be talking to The Report answering follow-up questions to the answers she gave at Jackson. She kept telling yours truly that she would have corporate communications contact The Report.
It is apparent that the FES/local government nexus is an attempted end run around the many, many questions that FE/OE consumers must have about this "unholy" alliance that is taking place before our very eyes.
Back in October, 2009 First Energy came up with a plan to meet Ohio's energy efficiency goals to - at its own initiative - send two compact fluorescent bulbs to Ohio Edison customers throughout Ohio including, of course, Stark Countians at a cost to the customers at $21.00 plus.
When First Energy/Ohio Edison (FE/OE) customers figured out what was being done to them, they cried "foul" loud and clear and stopped FE/OE dead in their tracks.
The Report excerpted a part of the graphics from First Energy's website to capture the "First Energy - Our energy working for you" claim.
A question immediately comes to mind: Is sending you unsolicited two fluorescent bulbs at the outrageous price of $21.00 plus "working for you?"
Obviously, it was not in this instance.
The focus of this blog is to critically examine the First Energy claim that the company is working for you and I in a larger context. For the most part; city, village and township officials are not taking a hard look at a "too good to be true" proposal First Energy Solutions is floating around Stark County. The proposal is described in detail in what follows.
Another "most everything for FE" and, perhaps, a "pig in a poke" for FE customers - in the opinion of the SCPR - is being paraded around Stark County by First Energy Solutions (FES).
The SCPR was at Stark County commissioner meetings back in 2009 when the commissioners' energy consultant Mark Burns of Independent Energy Consultants (IEC) presented an "electric aggregation" plan to the commissioners for the unincorporated portions of Stark County where FE has customers. Except for the amount of the "civic grant," this is the offer being made to Stark's villages, townships and cities.
The First Energy Solutions plan included the following:
- FE paying the county a $1.26 million civic grant.
- The county granting FES an exclusive 9 year status as the provider of electricity to Stark FES customers, unless a resident/business opts out initially or in a space provided every three years as required by Ohio law.
- A guaranteed 6% residential user discount off standard Ohio Edison rates
The commissioners did put the aggregation question to Stark County voters in November, 2009, only to see it go down to defeat.
Why did the measure lose at the ballot box?
With the commissioners having imposed a sales/use tax increase in December, 2008, it is likely that the trust level with the commissioners was so low that the electric aggregation issue rode the coattails of the rejection of retaining the imposed tax.
The measure having failed at the county level, the FES turned to the townships, in the FE/OE service area, to negotiate one-on-one contracts. The shift in focus was an easy move for FES because it already was dealing with villages and cities one-to-one.
So it appears that the FES plan is an "our energy working for you" operation?
The SCPR says appearances, appearances and more appearances, but not in reality.
Moreover, it is disturbing to the SCPR and should be a matter of concern for Stark County FE/OE, that village, city and township elected officials are naively trusting FES. Our local government officials desperate for revenues in hard economic times are proving to be easy targets for FES, all to the detriment of Stark's FE/OE customers.
Only the Stark County commissioners and Jackson Township fiscal officer Randy Gonzalez seem to be asking meaningful questions.
Commissioner Bosley was concerned about the long term contract and that FES was insisting on paying a lump sum to the county rather than reducing rates for customers. Another good thing that the commissioners did was to require Burns to get competitive bids from other than First Energy providers.
Because electric deregulation has not worked like natural gas to create competition, the alternatives that Burns scared up were not - according to him - competitive in an overall sense.
The SCPR's point here is that the commissioners did a much more thorough job in checking the program out and asking questions than has been demonstrated by the governing bodies/authorities of the cities, villages and townships of Stark County.
The SCPR understands that FES is not being Santa Claus. But do the mayors, city/village councilpersons and trustees understand? They are charged with the responsibility of protecting all of us from monopolists like First Energy.
Is something coming down the pike in a few years that First Energy knows about now and is making a preemptive strike to box electric customers in. A number of years ago SBC was offering ridiculously low telephone rates on some services on the condition that customers sign on for the longer term.
We all know what has happened with plummeting telephone rates.
Gonzalez asked two terrific questions at the last township trustee meeting. The gist of his concern is that electric ratepayers will end up paying for the "civic grant" hidden in the rates and couldn't First Energy forget the grant and just pass the $250,000 onto its Jackson electricity customers.
Of course, Jackson FE customers and along with all other Stark County FE customers will pay for the First Energy publicity stunt. And, the "power mad" utility will arrogantly fashion the $250,000 "apparent" give back in a form that suits it; the customers be damned!
To boot, First Energy uses Jackson Township government (as well as other local governments) to lock-in residential/commercial electricity users with First Energy Solutions.
Another important question is this: What is the premature opt-out cost if competition does materialize and one wants out of the FES deal early to take advantage of a lower price?
Apparently, not one government official asked this question, if media types are reporting thoroughly on the happenings at local government meetings considering the FES offer.
Are our local officials monitoring FE's "our energy working for you?" Doesn't seem so. Accordingly, "our energy working for us," unchecked by overly compliant local governors, is working for FES much more than for FES's customers.
How much "free" money is FES passing around Stark County these days?
Jackson Township - $250,000
Lake Township - $340,000
Lawrence Township - $80,000
Perry Township - $166,000
Tuscarawas Township - $100,000
Canal Fulton - $100,000
Massillon - $420,000
Ever heard the expression "there is no such thing as a free lunch?"
Maybe FES is more suited to selling snake oil rather than electric energy?
And again, what about our protectors? Councilpersons, mayors and trustees: Most, if not all, of them seem to be in the throes of being hoodwinked by First Energy.
Here is a summary video of a presentation made by Mark Burns to Stark County commissioners.
Though the county issue failed, the presentation is typical (except for critical questions not being asked by most of Stark's councilpersons, mayors and trustees) that have been made to local government throughout the FE/OE service area.