Consumers’ counsel wants to let citizens speak remotely on rates increase

File photo of Killen Station, a coal and combustion turbine facility AES Ohio/DP&L once operated in Wrightsville, Ohio in Adams County.
File photo of Killen Station, a coal and combustion turbine facility AES Ohio/DP&L once operated in Wrightsville, Ohio in Adams County.

The Office of the Ohio Consumers’ Counsel (OCC) filed a motion Wednesday to allow Dayton-area consumers to testify virtually as witnesses at the next local hearing on a proposed increase in distribution rates for AES Ohio customers.

At the last local hearing, held at Dayton city hall on Sept. 17, one speaker spoke before members of the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio. Though the PUCO recessed the meeting for about 20 minutes, no other speakers came forward. Chris Kershner, president and chief executive of the Dayton Area Chamber of Commerce, spoke in favor of the proposed increase.

ExplorePUCO gets one speaker on proposed AES Ohio rate increase

A second hearing is set for 6 p.m. Sept. 28, also at the Dayton Municipal Building, city commission chambers, 101 W. Third St.

“It is important that the public have their voices heard by their state government (the PUCO),” the OCC said in its filing.

Citing state law, the OCC said it is “concerned that, given the current state of the coronavirus pandemic, consumers might feel at risk appearing in person at a local public hearing to voice their concerns about AES’s request to increase the rates that they pay. Accordingly, OCC requests that the PUCO allow consumers to also remotely testify at the next local public hearing.”

“Allowing remote testimony would help satisfy the intent of R.C. 4903.083, which is to provide for a local public hearing allowing consumers to be heard,” the office said.

A representative of the PUCO said attorney law judges will review the motion.

The office this summer filed to dismiss the utility’s application to raise rates.

The office argues that AES Ohio is prohibited from increasing base rates because it agreed to freeze base distribution rates in a 2009 PUCO-approved settlement.

“Our consumer proposal to the PUCO is that AES should not be allowed to increase electric rates even a penny,” a spokeswoman for the Ohio Consumers’ Counsel’s office, Merrilee Embs, said earlier this month. “That’s because AES previously committed to a rate freeze. Regarding (Sept. 17′s) local hearing, it would be good for the PUCO to offer Dayton consumers the opportunity to testify virtually during the pandemic.”

The PUCO’s evidentiary hearing on the matter will begin at 10 a.m. Oct. 26, at PUCO offices, hearing room 11-A, 11th floor, 180 E. Broad St., Columbus.

But don’t go to Columbus for that hearing. The hearing will begin there before immediately going to recess for some 90 minutes, then resuming for a video meeting. A PUCO attorney said details about watching that meeting or listening to it on the phone will be published later.