Farmer, former state rep seeks PUCO seat

Camden resident and former Butler County state representative Gene Krebs appears to be the only Dayton-area candidate for an upcoming vacancy on the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio (PUCO) five-member board.

A 12-member PUCO nomination committee is expected to interview candidates Jan. 31, before offering Gov. Mike DeWine four finalists.

The new governor will have a month to make a choice or return to the nominating committee for more names.

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Whoever fills the vacancy will have a term lasting through April 10, 2024.

The PUCO oversees electric and natural gas utilities, telephone companies, water and wastewater companies, having a crucial role in deciding how much Ohio consumers pay for those basic services.

The term of PUCO Commissioner Tom Johnson, a Republican former state lawmaker, ends April 10, creating the vacancy. Johnson is not seeking another term.

The nomination process was enshrined in a 1982 law at a time when some consumer advocates had placed a referendum on the Ohio ballot to require public election of PUCO commissioners instead of appointments, noted J.P. Blackwood, public and legislative affairs specialist for the Office of the Ohio Consumers’ Counsel (OCC).

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“The 1982 law also created minimum qualifications for commissioners,” Blackwood said in an email. “However, the OCC Governing Board at that time stated that candidates for PUCO commissioner should additionally have a ‘a sensitivity to consumer interests.’”

It’s that “sensitivity to consumer interests” that Krebs says he wants to restore, if he has a voice on the board.

“When the PUCO was formed — my gosh, about 40 years ago now — it usually had more attention to consumer and business issues,” he told the Dayton Daily News Wednesday.

He also said he wants to be an advocate for “everybody,” he added. “You cannot favor any one group over another.”

But he feels that PUCO decisions of recent years have been obscure or “remote” from the needs of ordinary Ohioans.

“I believe ordinary citizens in Ohio find the decisions of the PUCO to be overly remote and not self-evidently in their best interests,” Krebs said.

Krebs, a Republican, announced in September 2017 he was running for the Ohio Senate seat then held by Bill Beagle, who was term limited.

However, Krebs did not file petitions, and State Rep. Steve Huffman, R-Tipp City, got the party’s nod, going on to win against Democrat Paul Bradley for the 5th Senate District in November.

Krebs served from 2005 to 2017 on the Ohio Consumers’ Counsel Governing board, a position meant to represent the interests of residential consumers.

That office saved Ohioans more than $800 million in the more than five years Krebs served as chair of the governing board.

“We worked hard and pushed back and ended up saving Ohioans … $800 million,” he said.

Over his career, Krebs has been a state representative, a county commissioner, a think-tank executive with the Greater Ohio Policy Center and a school board member, as well as a Preble County farmer.

Krebs said his qualifications for the PUCO board are “somewhat unique.”

Manufacturers are telling him that energy is beginning to vie with labor as their highest cost. That’s a concern the PUCO needs to weigh, Krebs believes.

“I think we need to bring just a little more, shall we say, awareness to this issue,” he said.

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