A new campaign aims to oust Ohio’s top utilities regulator. Who is Sam Randazzo and how is he tied to FirstEnergy?
Ohio Consumers Power Alliance is building pressure against Randazzo in part by using FirstEnergy’s current public and Wall Street unpopularity -- its stock has plummeted from $47.53 a share at the beginning of the year to $29.87 at the end of trading Wednesday.
COLUMBUS, Ohio – Sam Randazzo, the powerful chairman of the state commission that oversees utility regulation and rate-setting, is the target of a new campaign tying him to FirstEnergy through his previous work as a lobbyist and attorney.
The Ohio Consumers Power Alliance, which describes itself as an advocacy group pushing for more renewables that it believes will ultimately lower electricity rates, is making a case for Randazzo’s removal through a new website: https://SamRandazzo.com/.
In early 2019, Randazzo became chair of the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio, which regulates utilities and sets rates. As PUCO chair, Randazzo also chairs the Ohio Power Siting Board, which can influence statewide energy development by approving, rejecting or setting limits on large utility and wind generation projects.
The Ohio Consumers Power Alliance argues that Randazzo holds the same views with the PUCO that he held in his previous career, lobbying and as an attorney for the Industrial Energy Users – Ohio, a group representing some of the state’s largest industries, when he fought renewable standards. For years, he was out front in the opposition to the renewable energy and energy efficiency standards.
“It’s really obvious during the time that he’s been the chair that he’s not doing what he said he would do a year ago (at his confirmation hearing,) which was to represent Ohio and Ohioans,” said Rachel Belz, director of the Ohio Consumers Power Alliance, which is a project of the left-leaning grassroots Ohio Citizen Action. “Instead, they’ve been picking winners and losers.”
Randazzo, through a spokesman, declined to comment on the effort to remove him.
A spokesman for Gov. Mike DeWine said Thursday that the Republican continues to stand by Randazzo.
DeWine nominated Randazzo in February 2019 in a process that first requires applicants to be vetted by a nominating council and winnowed down to four to be presented to the governor.
When FirstEnergy subsidiary FirstEnergy Solutions declared bankruptcy in 2018, two companies that Randazzo owned were listed as creditors, as first reported by Eye on Ohio and the Energy News Network.
FirstEnergy is described as “Company A” in what federal authorities have described as a $60 million bribery scheme engineered by ex-Ohio House Speaker Larry Householder related to the passage of House Bill 6, which bailed out FirstEnergy Solutions’ (now Energy Harbor) two nuclear power plants. No one from FirstEnergy has been charged in connection with the alleged bribery.
Randazzo has not been implicated, either.
But the Ohio Consumers Power Alliance is building pressure against Randazzo in part by using FirstEnergy’s current public and Wall Street unpopularity – its stock has plummeted from $47.53 a share at the beginning of the year to $29.87 at the end of trading Wednesday.
“It’s great timing,” said Belz, the alliance’s director. “But we were planning this before the Householder scandal broke. We firmly believe Sam Randazzo should leave the PUCO and also the power siting board. We believe in being tough on the problem, not the person. In this case, the problem is the person. We’d like to see him step down.”
Wind project in Lake Erie
Belz said the alliance started working on SamRandazzo.com shortly after the Ohio Siting Power Board added a “poison pill” to the planned $126 million Icebreaker wind project in Lake Erie – conditions that could make it economically unfeasible.
The Icebreaker project proposes six turbines in the lake, eight miles north of Cleveland. The turbines would create 20.7 megawatts of electricity, and transmit it to Cleveland Public Power via a 12-mile long submerged cable.
It could possibly be the first freshwater offshore wind farm in North America.
But in May, the Ohio Power Siting Board placed 33 conditions on the project – including prohibiting turbines from running at night between March 1 and Nov. 1. Project developer Lake Erie Energy Development Corp. says the restrictions may kill the demonstration project.
In its written order, the siting board said that since the ultimate goal of the Icebreaker project is to assess whether larger-scale wind projects are viable in Lake Erie and other Great Lakes, “it is prudent to proceed with necessary caution.”
One issue of concern for the siting board was the collision of bats, water fowl and migrating birds into the turbines.
“It is expected that most birds, when migrating south in the fall and north in the spring, will fly above the rotorswept zone of the turbines,” the order states, referring to the total area through which turbine blades spin. “Those birds flying through the rotorswept zone will experience collision, attraction, and avoidance associated with the turbines.”
Environmental groups and a labor union are among those appealing the board’s decision.
The Ohio Siting Power Board under Randazzo was criticized for delaying solar projects in Hardin County and near Cincinnati. In April, issues Randazzo had with the solar projects were resolved and both were given the OK to go forward.
House Bill 6
In addition to bailing out the two Ohio nuclear plants, HB 6 gutted a 2008 law requiring renewable energy and energy efficiency standards the legislature passed over a decade ago.
Senate Bill 221, which became law in 2008, required that 25% of electricity in 2025 be generated from alternative energy sources. It also required utilities to implement energy efficiency programs to reduce energy use from 2009 to 2025.
As PUCO chair, Randazzo didn’t take a position on House Bill 6. But he testified on the legislation as an “interested party” that would be affected by the legislation.
He criticized 2008′s SB 221 as not reflecting today’s energy reality, with fracking providing abundant sources of natural gas, and that compliance to the standards were costing Ohio energy consumers.
“This cost began to hit electric bills as Ohio citizens were dealing with the financial stress which started with the collapse of the housing market and continued through the Great Recession,” he said in prepared remarks.
Randazzo didn’t mention the environmental concerns that drove the state to pass the standards in the first place.
Belz, the Ohio Consumers Power Alliance director, said that with Randazzo as head of PUCO and the siting board, it will be impossible for Ohioans to have a conversation about energy and what sources it should come from.
“We need to have a large conversation about energy policy in the state,” she said.
SamRandazzo.com includes a form that sends a message to DeWine’s office, which says in part: “You claim you’re for an ‘all-of-the-above energy policy for Ohio, but clearly Sam Randazzo is NOT in agreement… He is biased against clean energy and his bias is costing Ohio jobs, tax revenue and a healthier future for Ohio children.”
“Ohioans are demanding a fresh start,” text on the site reads. “It’s time to clean house! Sam Randazzo is standing in the way of a better Ohio. He must be replaced.”
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