'Electricity has been a bargain, until deregulation,' a consumer advocate says.
By PETER H. MILLIKEN
VINDICATOR STAFF WRITER
AUSTINTOWN -- Electric power deregulation is bad for utility customers, a consumer advocate told a citizens advisory panel.
"When you have a vital service, like electricity, it shouldn't be out of the control of the public," said David Hughes, executive director of Citizen Power Inc. of Pittsburgh, a nonprofit public policy research, education and advocacy organization.
"Electricity has been a bargain, until deregulation," said Hughes, who was here Thursday to address the Citizens Advisory Board of the Eastgate Regional Council of Governments.
"Maybe you can make competition work in some businesses, some industries, but it cannot work in electricity," Hughes continued.
Unlike other commodities, electricity cannot be stockpiled, and it is difficult to produce, with expensive power plants required to generate it, he explained. "You can't flow with the fluctuations of the market place," he said.
Ohio is in a transition period, known as the market development period, in the deregulation of power generation, during which rates are frozen. "You need to re-regulate and you need to do it soon," he said.
Once the transition period ends and full deregulation begins at the end of 2005, it will be difficult to re-regulate the industry, he added.
"The only way we're going to be able to actually stop this [deregulation] is if the public in this state forces the Legislature to do what needs to be done to fix this situation," he said.
Hughes said he doesn't think any other utilities will be able to compete with FirstEnergy, of which Ohio Edison is a part. After deregulation is complete, "They can charge whatever they want, and the PUCO [Public Utilities Commission of Ohio] can't do anything about it," Hughes said.
After deregulation is complete, he said, there would be nothing to stop power blackouts and brownouts, similar to those in California in recent years, from occurring here.
Aggregations of communities, such as the Northern Ohio Public Energy Council, with 100 participating municipalities and almost 400,000 customers in the Cleveland area, have been successful in achieving some savings, but they have been small -- less than 1 cent per kilowatt hour per customer, Hughes said.
Municipal utilities, such as those in Niles and Hubbard, can significantly benefit consumers, he said.
"There's no question. Public power is the best thing. In California, when they had all that catastrophe two years ago, the only service territories where the public had no blackouts, no rate increases, were in the public power service territories," he added.