PUCO places Youngstown Thermal into receivership, orders emergency surcharge
On June 30, 2017, the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio (PUCO) took action to address Youngstown Thermal's financial distress out of concern for the utility's ability to continue providing safe and reliable service to its customers. The PUCO directed the Ohio Attorney General's office to seek the appointment of a receiver for Youngstown Thermal. The order followed a PUCO staff report filed on June 29, 2017, finding that the utility could no longer pay its own utility suppliers, debt obligations and payroll.
On July 21, 2017, in an effort to protect public health and safety, and to prevent unnecessary or avoidable damage to property, the PUCO set out to establish an emergency surcharge for Youngstown Thermal. The surcharge would ensure that the company could continue to meet payroll obligations for its skilled workers, avoiding a break in service.
On Aug. 1, 2017, the PUCO adopted the emergency surcharge recommended by PUCO staff of a minimum monthly customer charge of $100.00 with the remainder of the revenue requirement being charged according to each customer's contribution to the system peak demands for heating and cooling.
The surcharge was implemented onto customer bills in an effort to ensure continued service to the business district of downtown Youngstown.
Additionally, on Aug. 1, 2017, Judge R. Scott Krichbaum of Mahoning County Common Pleas Court appointed Reg Martin, owner of Columbus-based Martin Management Services, the receiver. The court-appointed receiver is authorized to take possession of, manage, operate, protect and have complete control of all Youngstown’s Thermal’s operations, according to the judge’s entry.
On Aug. 4, 2017, Youngstown Thermal filed the final tariffs in accordance with the Commission's August 1, 2017, ruling.
A copy of Commission orders and PUCO staff reports relating to Youngstown Thermal are available on the PUCO website at www.PUCO.ohio.gov. Click on the link to the Docketing Information System and enter case 17-1534-HC-UNC in the search field.
PUCO announces digital community for annual assessment payment management
On Aug. 17, 2017, the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio (PUCO) launched a new online community to allow for regulated entities to efficiently interact with the PUCO regarding annual assessments payments.
“Phase one of the digital community is a huge first step in creating a streamlined and efficient way for the regulated companies to interact with the PUCO,” stated Chairman Asim Z. Haque.
Through this online community users will be able to view certificates, both active and inactive; and view and pay annual assessment invoices.
The goal of the PUCO is to provide a more efficient and transparent process for utilities and company’s required to make annual assessment payments. In the future, the PUCO intends to provide additional business-friendly functionalities to the online community, including managing certificates of operation, as well as filing reports and paying assessments related to telephone relay service, forecasting and gas pipeline safety.
For more information about the PUCO’s annual assessment digital community, visit www.PUCO.ohio.gov or call the PUCO Call Center at (800) 686-PUCO (7826).
PUCO holds PowerForward: Exploring Technologies
On July 25, 26 and 27, the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio (PUCO) held the second phase of PowerForward.
The three day "Exploring Technologies" series gave the Commission a chance to hear experts from around the country discuss the challenges, benefits and implementation process for new technologies on the electric distribution grid.
On day one, the Commission learned more about the idea of the grid as a "platform," the communications structure needed to support a modern grid, the need for integration and interoperability standards, and the challenges of IT/OT convergence.
While discussing the idea of creating a strong grid before a smart grid, John McDonald, SmartGrid Business Development Leader, North America at GE Grid Solutions, stressed the importance of grid wide standards for interoperability.
“I can have the best technology, but if it’s not standards-based then it won’t be successful," stated McDonald.
Day two of PowerForward saw the discussion of what to do with user data and how it could optimize the service a modern grid could provide. It also provided Ohio's regulated utilities an opportunity to show the Commission where they were in the modernization process and what future upgrades are still needed.
Speaking about implementing smart grid upgrades, Scott Osterholt of AEP Ohio stated that his company had already begun to install many of the technologies that had been discussed throughout both phases of PowerForward.
“We focused on what is the best technology for the customers,” stated Osterholt. “What we found is that AMI, DACR and VVO drives the most benefits for our customers.”
In the final day of phase 2, the Commission heard more about the implementation of distributed energy resources and energy storage technologies.
Vijay Singh of NextEra Energy Resources discussed the topic of energy storage and pointed out that the dropping prices of battery storage in recent years is a sign of its increasing influence on the modern electric grid.
Calling attention to new and expanding markets, such as that of electric vehicles, Singh stated that the falling prices, as well as the increasing efficiency and duration of lithium-ion batteries, make it a natural partner for the modern electric distribution grid and an important part of the electric distribution platform.
Phase 2 of PowerForward provided the Commission with a better understanding of how to implement smart grid technologies into Ohio’s electric distribution grid.
For more detailed recaps of all three days of PowerForward: Exploring Technologies or HD video recordings of the event, visit the PowerForward page here.
The PUCO does not currently have a scheduled date for the third phase of PowerForward, titled “Ratemaking and Regulation," but it can be expected in early 2018. For more information and updates, check the PowerForward page at www.PUCO.ohio.gov and follow us on social media @PUCOhio.
PUCO issues Winter Reconnect Order for 2017-2018
On Sept. 14, 2017, the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio (PUCO) today approved the Winter Reconnect Order to help Ohioans reconnect or maintain electric and natural gas service during the winter heating season between Oct. 16, 2017 and April 13, 2018. Any customer of a PUCO regulated electric or natural gas utility may take advantage of the order. Last winter heating season, more than 228,000 Ohio utility customers utilized the PUCO’s Winter Reconnect Order.
Energy utility service is vital, especially in the winter. The Winter Reconnect Order is an opportunity for Ohioans to avoid disconnection or to reconnect their gas and/or electric service once during the winter heating season. Customers who utilize the Winter Reconnect Order are required to pay the utility $175 plus any applicable reconnection charge not to exceed $36. If the company’s reconnection charge is greater than $36, the balance may be billed to the customer the following month.
The Winter Reconnect Order also applies to customers seeking to establish new electric and natural gas service. Rather than paying the full security deposit that may be required for new service, customers can pay up to $175 and be billed any remaining balance of the security deposit the following month.
There is no income eligibility requirement to utilize the Winter Reconnect Order, however customers who are at or below 175 percent of the federal poverty level may apply through the Home Energy Assistance Program (HEAP) to pay the $175 amount. Several other state and federal programs are also available to Ohioans who qualify, including the Percentage of Income Payment Plan Plus (PIPP) and the Home Weatherization Assistance Program (HWAP). More information about these programs and additional ways to save on home heating bills this winter is available on Ohio’s Winter Heating Resource website at www.winterheat.ohio.gov.
If you would like to utilize the program, call your electric or natural gas utility between Oct. 16, 2017 and April 13, 2018, to find out more information about your account and how to apply the Winter Reconnect Order to your utility bill. Utility representatives will explain the order, and if applicable, set you up on a payment plan for any default amount. PIPP customers who would like to use the Winter Reconnect Order must pay the balance of any default they may have within one billing cycle in order to re-enroll in PIPP.
Customers who have questions about the PUCO’s Winter Reconnect Order may contact the PUCO at (800) 686-PUCO (7826) or visit the PUCO website at www.PUCO.ohio.gov.
PUCO provides tips for energy efficiency and conservation in your home
The Public Utilities Commission of Ohio (PUCO) is encouraging Ohioans to practice energy efficiency and conservation this fall and winter.
Ohioans rely on energy such as electricity and natural gas to run their homes on a daily basis. By practicing energy conservation, you can develop habits to reduce your energy usage and save on your utility bills. Whether you own or rent your home, you can save on the energy you use every day by practicing these energy efficiency and conservation tips.
- Set thermostats as low as appropriate to maintain health and comfort.
- Save energy by turning off lights and appliances when you leave a room.
- Use compact fluorescent lamp (CFL) or LED bulbs.
- Keep doors and windows closed as much as possible. This includes overhead doors on attached garages.
- Seal off unheated, unused rooms.
- Look for furnaces and other appliances that are ENERGY STAR® approved.
- Set the water heater thermostat to the warm setting, or 120 degrees. If you will be away from your home, turn the thermostat down even more. This will avoid using energy to reheat the same water while you are not there.
- Your home computer can use a considerable amount of electricity. To save energy, turn it off while it’s not being used.
- Take extreme care when using space heaters. Make sure they are placed away from combustible materials and, if necessary, properly vented to prevent carbon monoxide poisoning.
- Check with your local utility for available energy efficiency programs and incentives.
For more information on conserving energy in your home or for any utility-related concern, visit www.PUCO.ohio.gov or call the PUCO Call Center at (800) 686-PUCO (7826).
PUCO encourages safety at rail crossings
Every three hours, a person or vehicle is hit by a train in the United States. Many crashes at railroad crossings occur because motorists fail to stop at the crossing, drive around the gates or stop/stall on the tracks.
The Public Utilities Commission of Ohio (PUCO) is encouraging you to practice caution when traveling over rail crossings by following these seven steps for safety.
Approach with care. Warn others that you are slowing down. Turn on 4-way flashers. Use pull-out lane if available.
Prepare to stop. Turn off fans and radio and roll down windows. Locate your cell phone for use in emergency. Stop at least 15 feet, but not more than 50 feet, from nearest rail.
Look and listen both ways, carefully. Bend forward to see around mirrors and other vehicle parts blocking view.
If it won't fit, don't commit. Trains extend beyond the width of the rails at least 3 feet on each side. Remember your vehicle – and cargo – overhang.
Look again. Before you move, look again in both directions.
Cross tracks with care. Signal, watch for a safe gap, pull back onto the road if you used a pull-out lane. Use highest gear that will let you cross without shifting.
Keep going once you start, even if lights start to flash or gates come down.
Every rail crossing in Ohio is required to post the U.S. Department of Transportation number associated with the crossing and the emergency contact number for the railroad. If your vehicle stalls or gets stuck on the tracks, get out immediately and move away from the tracks at a 45 degree angle towards any oncoming train. Once it is safe to do so, the emergency number, visibly located near the crossing on the light poles or cross bucks, should be the first number you call if your vehicle is stuck or if warning devices aren’t properly functioning. The railroad has the ability to stop the flow of train traffic heading towards the crossing. If it is an emergency, next call 9-1-1 or the local police.
With 36 freight railroads operating approximately 5,300 miles of track and over 5,700 public grade crossings, Ohio is the fifth leading state in terms of goods transported by rail. The PUCO, in conjunction with the Ohio Rail Development Commission, is responsible for ensuring the safety of motorists at highway-rail grade crossings in Ohio. PUCO rail inspectors inspect the warning devices that are essential for motorist safety.
The Ohio Rail Hotline, at (866) 814-RAIL (7245), provides Ohioans with a toll-free resource for all railroad crossing questions. For more information regarding these crossings, access the Ohio railroad information system website at http://gradecrossings.puco.ohio.gov/. For more information on rail crossing safety, visit www.PUCO.ohio.gov.
Utility question or concern? Contact the PUCO
The Public Utilities Commission of Ohio (PUCO) urges consumers to contact the PUCO Call Center at (800) 686-PUCO (7826) or visit the PUCO website at www.PUCO.ohio.gov when faced with a utility issue. The PUCO has a dedicated staff, highly capable of resolving issues between you (the consumer) and any PUCO-regulated utilities.
Each year, the PUCO Call Center receives tens of thousands of contacts from utility customers. In fiscal year 2016, the PUCO Call Center saved Ohioans more than $1,700,000. Many customers have a question that a representative can quickly handle. In other instances, issues require a closer examination and a PUCO investigator is assigned to look into the matter. During that process, the PUCO investigator works with the consumer and utility company to help mediate the situation.
Five most common reasons to contact the PUCO:
- Utility bill questions and concerns
- Questions about choosing an electric or natural gas provider
- Service disconnection issues
- How to save money on energy bills through energy conservation
- Low income assistance and payment plans
The PUCO recommends first trying to resolve the issue with the utility directly by calling their customer service line. If the problem or complaint persists, call the PUCO at (800) 686-PUCO (7826) or file your concern online at www.PUCO.ohio.gov and one of our professional representatives will assist you.
The PUCO affects every household in Ohio by regulating investor-owned utilities including electric and natural gas utilities, landline telephone companies, water and wastewater companies, and moving, rail and trucking companies.
The PUCO does not regulate providers of cable, cellular, propane gas, heating oil or internet service; and does not have jurisdiction over co-operative or municipal utilities.
The PUCO learns a great deal from utility consumers’ contacts. This information is used to ensure that utility companies engage in fair and reasonable practices and helps the PUCO formulate rules and regulations.
For more information, visit the PUCO website at www.PUCO.ohio.gov.
PUCO answers your questions about budget billing
The Public Utilities Commission of Ohio (PUCO) would like to remind consumers that in addition to energy conservation and energy choice, budget billing is another way to manage your utility bills.
How does budget billing work?
Budget billing is a program offered by Ohio's regulated electric and natural gas distribution companies that spreads out the cost of energy used during high-demand times of the year. Instead of seeing an increase in winter heating bills or summer cooling bills, budget billing breaks down total yearly usage into manageable monthly bills. The utility companies calculate your budget amount based on your usage history and expected energy prices. At the end of the budget period, the company will “true-up” that amount so that what you pay matches what you actually used.
What happens if energy prices change or I use more energy than expected?
During the budget period, your utility company may review your budget amount, usage and energy prices. The utility company may make adjustments to your budget amount so that it more accurately reflects your usage and energy prices. At the end of the budget year, when you receive your true-up amount, any over or under collection will be calculated at that time.
How do I sign up for budget billing?
Contact your natural gas or electric distribution company for information on signing up. Each utility company may have different budget periods and budget plans available. Be sure to ask when the budget period begins and when adjustments to your budget amount can be made.
Since budget periods usually begin in August, the later in the year you sign up, the higher your budget amount will be.
What if I signed up with a competitive retail electric or natural gas supplier?
Suppliers are not required to offer budget billing, but some suppliers do. If you are considering enrolling with a competitive supplier, contact that supplier and ask if they offer budget billing.
For more information on budget billing and utility-related matters, call (800) 686-PUCO (7826) or visit www.PUCO.ohio.gov.
PUCO grants hours-of-service relief to petroleum carriers
On Sept. 1, 2017, the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio (PUCO) granted temporary regulatory relief from the hours-of-service requirements for drivers operating commercial motor vehicles transporting petroleum products within Ohio. The relief was provided in response to the effects of Hurricane Harvey.
The regulatory relief was made effective immediately and expired at 11:59 p.m. on Sept. 8, 2017.
Carriers subject to this regulatory relief were not exempt from any other motor carrier safety regulations, including commercial driver's licensing, controlled substance and alcohol use and testing requirements, and financial responsibility requirements. Carriers were still required to maintain records of duty status and take all measures to ensure that drivers had the ability to safely operate their commercial vehicles.
Drivers were required to keep a copy of this notice on each vehicle affected by this relief.
PUCO provides outreach at the Ohio State Fair
Between July 26 and Aug. 6, 2017, the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio (PUCO) hosted an informational booth in the Bricker Building at the Ohio State Fair. The booth averaged over 500 visitors per day. Staff members educated fairgoers on the services our agency provides and answered a variety of questions on different topics including energy choice, conservation measures, power outages, service reliability, rail road safety and telephone issues.
The PUCO booth featured a light box which compares the energy usage of an incandescent light bulb, a compact florescent light (CFL) bulb and a LED bulb. Fair workers were asked to encourage the public to “flip the switch” on our light box so they could see the actual wattage usage themselves, which was very educational to all ages.
It was reported that more than 800,000 people attended the 12 day event.
PUCO and OPSB file annual reports
The PUCO annual report provides the agency's yearly financial information, as well as several articles highlighting the year's biggest stories and trends.