Editorials, Opinion

The Good, the Bad and the Shady: FirstEnergy Edition

When it comes to FirstEnergy and its subsidiaries Mon Power and Potomac Edison, there are so many things going on right now that it’s difficult to keep them straight. To help keep the discussion organized, we’re adapting our favorite legislative breakdown. Presenting: “The Good, the Bad and the Shady: FirstEnergy Edition.”

Good: Mon Power debuted the first of its five planned solar arrays earlier this month. As David Beard reported: Adjacent to Mon Power’s Fort Martin coal-fired plant, the solar operation covers 80 acres, with 49,032 solar panels generating 18.89 megawatts. This is a huge step forward for solar energy in West Virginia and toward diversifying our power grid.

Bad: Mon Power wants to cut the net-metering 1-to-1 solar credit in half. So when households with solar panels have excess electricity during peak solar generation, they would essentially be giving Mon Power free electricity, but then they would have to pay for electricity from Mon Power during low solar generation instead of receiving it back at the same value. Mon Power justifies the cut by saying net-metering customers still use Mon Power infrastructure, so they should have to pay. The Public Service Commission has proposed a compromise of 8.8 cents per kilowatt hour, which is higher than Mon Power’s requested 6.6 cents but still lower than the 1-to-1 credit, which will make it harder to recoup the investment in rooftop solar panels.

Good-ish: The PSC is soliciting comments not just on net-metering, but also on Mon Power’s $207 million rate-base increase, which would raise residential customers’ bills by about $18 per month — on top of the already approved $2.47 vegetation management surcharge and the $3.77 for the first period of the ENEC rate hike. If the rate-base request is approved, Mon Power customers face a total $25 increase per month.

If you would like to comment on the net-metering and/or the rate-base hike, send written comments to: Executive Secretary, P.O. Box 812, Charleston, WV 25323 or submit them online at psc.state.wv.us by clicking on “Submit A Comment” in the left column and following the directions for “Formal Case.” All written comments should be marked with Case No. 23-0460-E-42T.

Shady: The recently announced results of an audit of FirstEnergy found a variety of “misallocated” and possibly double-charged expenses (including over $2 million charged to ratepayers for sports sponsorships). Not only that, but after the audit was complete, FirstEnergy representative Tracy Ashton walked back previous testimony that FirstEnergy’s HB 6 scandal in Ohio had any impact on West Virginia ratepayers: “FirstEnergy has since estimated that it is possible that HB 6 costs and certain non-recoverable and non-operating costs could have been applied to” West Virginia projects to the tune of an estimated $53,000. 

For context: In 2019, Ohio passed HB 6, which amounted to a roughly $1 billion bailout of FirstEnergy nuclear and coal plants. In 2020, a federal investigation suggested FirstEnergy and others had bribed top Ohio officials with millions of dollars in dark money donations to get HB 6 passed. As a result, in 2021, FirstEnergy was fined $230 million.          

It also came out in the audit that Mon Power paid over $18 million to BCG Resources LLC from 2018 to 2020, which it billed as “fuel inventory,” and may have overcharged wholesale customers as it recouped the costs. According to the Charleston Gazette-Mail, BCG Resources is closely (and likely financially) linked to both an individual and a company implicated in the federal bribery complaint against FirstEnergy.

When it comes to public entities’ finances, there shouldn’t be even the slightest hint of suspect behavior — but we can’t escape the impression there’s something not quite right going on here. The PSC should carefully consider every aspect of the utility’s finances before approving any more rate hikes to make sure FirstEnergy and its subsidiaries aren’t taking advantage of ratepayers.