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November 21, 2012

Ohio's Next Big Decision -- A Clean or Dirty Energy Future?

Now that the presidential election is over, the people of Ohio are facing another important choice -- whether their state will embrace clean energy measures that will save money and lives, or continue wasting energy from polluting coal plants. To help get the message out far and wide, the Ohio Sierra Club is launching new billboards that are taking energy efficiency to the street. There's a big question mark hanging over the state's energy direction. Will the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio choose a future of unnecessary and expensive coal and gas generating plants that make people sick or, instead, a twenty-first century path that reduces energy waste and creates jobs?

To help steer Ohio toward clean energy, the billboards call out one particular utility that keeps trying to take the dirtiest path possible: FirstEnergy, which serves more than 2 million Ohioans.

FirstEnergy Billboard

We've placed three billboards in Akron and two in Columbus, with one near the offices of the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio. The Commission will decide next month whether FirstEnergy's plan to meet the state's energy efficiency goals is sufficient. The Sierra Club and our allies have shown them that it is nowhere near that.

FirstEnergy's plan is just like its track record on renewable energy. Unlike Ohio's other energy companies, FirstEnergy discourages its customers to save energy and lower their electric bills. For example, earlier this year, an audit of FirstEnergy found that they had paid nearly 15 times a reasonable price for renewable energy to its subsidiary company, FirstEnergy Solutions. The confidential audit report is being released for further review to get to the bottom of this. In the meantime, when FirstEnergy retired coal plants earlier this year and had the opportunity to support its workforce by transitioning to clean-energy projects, it did nothing. FirstEnergy's record with efficiency programs is no different.

Efficiency Graph

And right now, FirstEnergy is trying to eliminate energy savings from efficiency programs by lobbying for a removal of the state's energy efficiency savings targets. But this is not the first attempt by FirstEnergy:

• In 2009, FirstEnergy's Compact Fluorescent Light program attempted to gouge customers by overcharging for energy-efficient lightbulbs.
• In 2010, FirstEnergy removed a special rate they had promised for customers who heat with electricity, which left those customers using more power and spending more on energy bills than necessary.
• FirstEnergy failed to anticipate the demand for efficiency programs and burned through a three-year incentive budget in just eight months.

It's not just environmentalists and consumer groups that are tired of FirstEnergy's antics. Even the local media are criticizing the utility for trying to influence politicians.

"The clean-energy law passed in 2008 with strong bipartisan support. Manufacturers and developers in the clean-energy sector cannot achieve their potential if lobbyists for utilities and other special interests persuade Columbus politicians to meddle with the law," the Toledo Blade wrote in a recent editorial

No wonder the utility received a "D minus" on Environment Ohio's report card (pdf).

"FirstEnergy's energy-efficiency efforts have been inadequate from the outset," the report said. "While the three other utilities prepared well thought-out plans and took steps to hit their energy efficiency targets in 2009, FirstEnergy proposed flawed programs and attempted to pass off ongoing maintenance of the company’s transmission infrastructure as an energy efficiency program."

FirstEnergy has been all talk and no action. Ohioans are fed up with charades and empty promises. They want clean energy and the jobs that come with it. When they see these billboards, they will know why their energy provider is the target. Let's hope FirstEnergy gets the message.

-- Mary Anne Hitt, Director of the Beyond Coal Campaign


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