Officials speak up about rate hike

Seek local hearing on gas company’s request

WARREN — Local officials are seeking to ensure the Mahoning Valley’s voice is heard by the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio before it decides on the proposed 30% rate increase by Enbridge Gas Ohio. Enbridge has filed with PUCO for a 30% increase for its natural gas distribution services. If the rate hike is approved, it will cost the average residential consumer more than $100 per year. Additionally, the utility is asking to charge its consumers additional monthly fees of $8.78 per month this year, and as much as $29.69 per month by 2032. In recent weeks, several local government bodies in Ohio have adopted resolutions against the proposed rate increase. Thus far, cities including Warren, Niles, Cortland, Akron, Barberton, and Seven Hills, townships including Bazzetta, Brookfield, Liberty and Weathersfield, the village of Lordstown and the Warren City Schools Board of Education have all filed resolutions regarding the proposed rate increase according to case records. Now, officials are hoping that PUCO will hold a public hearing regarding the rate increase somewhere in the Mahoning Valley. When asked about a potential public hearing, PUCO Director of Public Affairs Matt Schilling pointed to Ohio Revised Code section 4903.083, which states “the public utilities commission shall hold public hearings in each municipal corporation in the affected service area having a population in excess of one hundred thousand persons, provided that, at least one public hearing shall be held in each affected service area.” “A PUCO administrative law judge will issue an entry later this summer to schedule local public hearings,” Schilling said. Schilling said while a municipality in the affected service area with a population in excess of 100,000 is the minimum requirement through ORC, PUCO “could possibly hold others.” In Warren, 3rd Ward Councilman Greg Greathouse, who chairs the council’s public utilities committee, is hoping the commission will schedule a public hearing on the proposed Enbridge rate increase somewhere in the Mahoning Valley. “I wrote to them,” Greathouse said. “Specifically requesting that they come to the Mahoning Valley because, between Youngstown and Warren, we meet that population threshold.” Thus far, regarding the proposition to have a public hearing held in the Valley, Greathouse said he has heard “crickets” from PUCO. Greathouse believes the population threshold for a public hearing on rate increases is unfair for those Ohioans who would have to travel close to an hour away to participate. “We’re paying that price right along with the residents of Akron and Cleveland, all of Northeast Ohio is going to be under that mandate depending upon how the PUCO decides,” he said. “We have never had the opportunity to have our voices heard. In the history of the public hearings, the commission has never come to the Mahoning Valley and I think we’re being overlooked, certainly underrepresented.” In Youngstown, 6th Ward Councilwoman Anita Davis said Youngstown City Council will be voting on a resolution against the proposed rate increase at its next regular meeting on June 5. She said she has not written a letter to PUCO yet but she plans to make more direct contact regarding having a public hearing in the Valley. “The more voices that speak in opposition the better,” she said. “Let them know exactly how we feel and why. Because after all, the other side has submitted its information, their papers and so forth, saying that it’s needed. If the public doesn’t demand answers, get answers, ask questions, then we’re saying we’re in agreement with it. We have to voice our opposition if we oppose it and I for one do oppose it.” Davis also believes the 100,000 population threshold is unfair. She said Youngstown is the largest nearby city with only about 60,000 residents. Davis believes that PUCO should be considering larger metropolitan areas for its public hearings. “The average city is not 100,000 people,” she said. “Other than that, they’re totally ignoring the majority of the people.” Warren City Councilman at-Large Michael O’Brien said all of the communities he has reached out to regarding the resolutions against the proposed rate increase have been receptive to the idea. He said he and Greathouse challenged Youngstown City Council to encourage other communities in Mahoning County to draft similar legislation. O’Brien said Maureen Willis, Ohio Consumers’ Counsel, has been impressed with the Valley’s efforts. Previously, Willis said using information gathered, including comments from various Ohio communities, the consumers’ counsel will present a case for a “justified” rate increase of less than 30%. After hearing cases from all parties involved, the commission will issue a “staff report,” recommending how much of a rate increase is justified. Willis believes that PUCO will provide a decision on the case by the end of the year. “The Mahoning Valley will be speaking in unison opposing this exorbitant rate increase,” O’Brien said. Have an interesting story? Contact Mason Cole by email at mcole@tribtoday.com. Follow him on X, formerly Twitter, @masoncoletrib.


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