The David facing Goliath is the Office of the Consumers’ Counsel, which speaks for residential ratepayers. Counsel Bruce Weston said in testimony prepared for an Ohio House Finance subcommittee that his agency “provides (Ohio’s) residential utility consumers with a voice in cases where they otherwise would have little or none.” The office isn’t funded by taxes but by a fee utilities pay “equivalent to less than a dollar a year for a typical residential customer.”
Ohioans need all the help they can get. Ohio “regulators” are utility-friendly. Weston said “33 states are identified with lower average residential electric rates than Ohio”; “since 2008, Ohioans have experienced the second greatest increase in their electric rates compared to their counterparts in other … (deregulated) states”; and “Ohio electric utilities have been authorized to collect ($14.7 billion in subsidies) from consumers since 2000.”
A 2011 Republican budget rider forbids the Counsel to operate a call center to take consumer complaints, and requires the Counsel to forward any complaint calls it does get to a Public Utilities Commission of Ohio call center. In case you’ve forgotten, the PUCO approves utility rates.
That’s ridiculous – unless you aim to frustrate time-squeezed Ohioans. Weston wants legislators to let the Counsel’s office assist consumers who call with complaints, or refer them to the PUCO. Especially in House districts with higher-than-statewide poverty rates, such as Speaker Cliff Rosenberger’s and Finance Chair Ryan Smith’s, letting the Consumers’ Counsel have a call center would help Ohioans protect their wallets – if home-folks, not big utilities, are a legislative priority.