By Marc Kovac
FirstEnergy called its rehearing before the PUCO ‘a media stunt.’
COLUMBUS — FirstEnergy has asked state energy regulators to deny an advocacy group’s request for a rehearing on its planned distribution of energy-efficient light bulbs to customers.
In a filing with the Ohio Public Utilities Commission, the company said it already had invested $10 million in the program, which was approved by state regulators, and is holding millions of the bulbs in a warehouse pending discussions with state officials.
The filing came in response to a request for a rehearing from the Ohio Consumers’ Counsel after a public outcry over FirstEnergy’s plans to distribute compact fluorescent light bulbs to its customers, then charge them for the costs.
FirstEnergy called the rehearing request “nothing more than a media stunt intended to deflect criticism of those who object to the state’s policy mandating energy efficiency and peak demand reduction programs.”
And the company said the consumers’ counsel was among the parties involved in original discussions of the light-bulb program that was already approved by PUCO.
“We don’t see that there is any basis for a rehearing on the issues that have already been expressed and addressed to what we believed was their satisfaction at the time,” said Ellen Raines, FirstEnergy spokeswoman.
But Anthony Rodriguez, a spokesman for the consumers’ counsel, called FirstEnergy’s comments unfair.
“From the beginning, we advised FirstEnergy that its program was a bad model to promote energy efficiency,” he said. “They went ahead with the program anyway. ...When it became apparent that the program would be approved, the OCC and other consumer and environmental advocates did what we could to mitigate the severity of the program.”
Shana Eiselstein, PUCO spokeswoman, said the commission has 30 days to rule on the rehearing request, with a decision expected in early November. It will review arguments made by the consumers’ counsel and FirstEnergy in making that decision but does not comment on pending cases.
In September, FirstEnergy received approval from PUCO to distribute 3.75 million compact fluorescent light bulbs to residential customers. The company says the bulbs will save customers about $60 over a five- to seven-year period.
PUCO and Gov. Ted Strickland’s office received high volumes of phone calls and e-mails from customers angry about the light-bulb distribution.
FirstEnergy subsequently postponed distribution until meeting with PUCO to discuss the situation further. A public hearing on the issue is scheduled for next Wednesday.
In its filing this week, First- Energy defended plans to deliver bulbs directly to customers, rather than distributing coupons or vouchers to enable customers to buy them on their own.
“Less than 10 percent of customers who receive coupons take the necessary steps to purchase CFL bulbs, and this limited success occurs over an extended period of time,” the company wrote.
The company said cost recovery from customers is an essential part of meeting state-mandated, energy- efficiency benchmarks.