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Published: Sunday, 11/15/2009

Restructuring proposed for Ohio electricity bills

BY JOHN FUNK
(CLEVELAND) PLAIN DEALER

Utility customers who find their monthly gas bills easier to figure these days will appreciate proposals for their electric bills.

In the future, a customer who reduces power usage could have a temporary increase in delivery rates at the end of a year to make sure the utility's delivery income did not fall because of the conservation.

Or the fixed monthly service charge could rise regardless of power used - once again guaranteeing the annual income the utility is entitled to by state regulation.

On the bright side, delivery rates could be much lower, just as natural gas delivery rates are now significantly lower than they were a year ago.

The Public Utilities Commission of Ohio is thinking about overhauling how electric rates are structured, just as it did gas rates in 2008.

A year ago, the commission drastically changed how monthly consumer gas bills were figured by slashing the use-based rate and increasing the fixed monthly customer charge.

The idea was to break the link between gas sales and delivery income, leading the utilities to encourage energy efficiency.

Commission member Cheryl Roberto broached the subject last week at the annual meeting of the Northeast Ohio Public Energy Council and said she hoped the commission would hold conferences or hearings on the issue in the spring.

"On average, energy efficiency will cost [consumers] 3 cents to 4 cents per kilowatt-hour," she told them. "If you take what you are paying for a kilowatt-hour of energy, that number is presently between 6.3 cents and 7.8 cents. …

"So why wouldn't you want to help your consumers … substitute a 3-cent kilowatt-hour of energy efficiency for a 6-cent or 7-cent kilowatt hour of energy?"

By law, the utilities must reduce projected power sales annually through 2024 through adoption of energy-efficient technologies.

Such technologies will contain sophisticated software and hardware allowing utilities to level out demand and consumers to save money by significantly controlling how much power they buy and when they buy it.

Ms. Roberto said energy efficiency can head off construction of power plants that would be far more expensive than anything built in the past and that would send the cost of power soaring.



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