Utility to sell you $9 bulbs for $21

By Don Shilling

Consumers will pay 60 cents a month for three years for the bulbs.

FirstEnergy Corp. is sending two energy-efficient light bulbs to all of its residential customers in Ohio, but not everyone is happy with the charge that comes with the bulbs.

The utility will charge customers about 60 cents a month for three years in exchange for delivering the compact fluorescent bulbs to the door or mailbox.

The average residential customer will pay $21.60 over three years for the two 23-watt CFLs, which are equivalent to 100-watt incandescent bulbs.

Retailers sell the CFLs for about $9 a pair.

Ellen Raines, a FirstEnergy spokeswoman, said the utility is permitted to recoup the cost of the bulbs, their delivery and the power that the customer would have used if they didn’t install the bulbs.

Despite the fee, consumers will save about $60 in electricity costs over the life of the bulbs, which is expected to be five to 10 years, Raines said.

The Ohio Consumers’ Counsel tried to stop FirstEnergy’s plan because it thinks there are better ways to encourage energy efficiency, said Anthony Rodriguez, a spokesman for the agency that represents consumers in utility-rate cases.

FirstEnergy, parent of Ohio Edison, is sending the bulbs in an effort to comply with a new state law that requires utilities to reduce the demand for electricity, but other utilities have adopted plans that don’t include a monthly charge to consumers, he said.

One utility sent discount coupons to consumers, while another set up a program with a particular retail chain that provided discounted bulbs.

State Sen. Capri Cafaro of Liberty, D-32nd, said she would have preferred that FirstEnergy comply with the new law by issuing the coupons. That way, consumers would have had a choice in what type of bulb they can install, she said.

She encouraged consumers who don’t like FirstEnergy’s plan to register their complaint with the Ohio Consumers’ Counsel at (877) 742-5622.

Raines said FirstEnergy thinks more consumers are more likely to use the energy-efficient bulbs if they are delivered to them. Its plan was approved by the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio.

About 80 percent of the bulbs will be hand-delivered to customers, with the rest being delivered by mail. Delivery of the 3.75 million bulbs will start Monday and take about five weeks.

FirstEnergy has hired three companies to handle the deliveries. No action is required by consumers.

Raines said a state energy law passed last year requires utilities to cut electricity demand by 22 percent by 2025. The law contains annual benchmarks that start this year, so utilities must take steps to reduce demand.

Raines said this is the first step in its plan to reduce demand and comply with the law. In future years, it will propose other ways of reducing demand, including possible programs for commercial and industrial users, she said.


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