The real Jefferson County small town community "family" turned out this morning to defend their community and their wallets against FirstEnergy's stuffed suits from elsewhere pushing the company's plan to increase rates by 6% to pay for the purchase of the Harrison power station.
First item on the Jefferson County Commission's agenda this morning was a presentation by Charlene Gilliam of FirstEnergy intended to provide the Commission with more information regarding the carried over agenda item known as "First Energy Resolution regarding opposing the "Intra-Sale" of Harrison Power Plant for possible adoption - Discussion/Action. Charlene either wasn't prepared, or simply wasn't permitted, to present anything to the Commission because she never said a word. Instead, Charlene's two corporate suit "daddies" (Charlie Friddle, Director, External Affairs at FirstEnergy Corp. and Sammy Gray, Manager State Affairs, WV, FirstEnergy Corp.) were clearly making a desperate attempt to bamboozle the Jefferson County Commission like they were an easily handled gaggle of insipid rubes.
However, before Charlie took the microphone to demonstrate his complete cluelessness about Jefferson County and its citizens, the public was allowed to make comment. At least five people spoke against the Harrison plant transfer, and no one showed up to speak for it. Also at issue was Potomac Edison's lack of concern for its customers in Jefferson County, and the sad fact that despite a whole lot of lip service from the company about how its merger with Allegheny Energy would provide benefit for West Virginians, and that we're all just one big, happy "family," customers have experienced nothing but insult and injury since the merger. The community, and the Commission, is a long, long way from forgiving FirstEnergy for blowing off the Citizens' Public Hearing in Charles Town on May 22.
Charlie told the Commission that the invitation the company received only mentioned billing, and that billing is an individual issue that can't be solved at a group meeting. Charlie also told the Commission that the company knew well before the May 22 hearing that the PSC would be opening an investigation. Then he tried to point the finger at the PSC in order to take the heat off himself in a most juvenile manner -- "But the PSC didn't show up either!" *whiiiiiiiiiiiiiiineeeeeeeeeeeeeee*
Let's dissect this LIE. The invitation mentioned both the billing AND Harrison transfer. But FirstEnergy couldn't be bothered to send a representative to explain it to the community until a resolution from the Commission opposing the transfer was imminent? FirstEnergy just doesn't give a crap about any of you unless you reach over and grab their hand that's worming its way into your pocket to steal you blind. As well, revealing a customer's personal billing information publicly is okay when it suits FirstEnergy's purposes. And finally, the PSC had emphatically stated that it would not open an investigation prior to the public hearing. If the PSC was in cahoots with Potomac Edison attempting to head off an imminent investigation before the May 22 hearing, I'm sure we'd all like to hear more about that, Charlie.
Next, Charlie told the Commission that there wasn't enough time to explain all the facts to them and insinuated that they were too stupid to ever understand the transaction anyhow, and therefore, *pat, pat, on the head* go away and let the experts at the power company and the PSC handle the matter. Charlie feels that FirstEnergy's PSC testimony proves that the transaction is needed. (Did Charlie watch the same evidentiary hearing the rest of us did? Because I saw FE's case and witnesses getting shredded). Charlie basically told the Commission that it's up to the PSC to make a decision, and the Commission should mind their own business. Last time I checked, West Virginia was still a democracy, and if Jefferson County has an opinion on a matter before the PSC, they are free to express it. The PSC does not have to clear their decision with Jefferson County, so I'm really not sure what all the hoo-haw was about this morning. Why did FirstEnergy waste all that time and money this morning trying to prevent a simple resolution from Jefferson County opposing their proposal before the PSC? Have we lost sight of the prize, Charlie and Sammy? News Flash! Next week, I'm thinking of passing my own personal resolution against your plant transfer. Why don't you three stooges come on over and we'll have a party?
Charlie informed the Commission that his company was "pursuing excellence through quality" and attempting to increase business and economic development. Charlie assured the Commission that "everything has a cost" and proceeded to go on a crazed rant against energy efficiency programs in Ohio. Yes, we know FirstEnergy has been trying to kill efficiency programs in Ohio, but why should we care? Charlie said that Ohio consumers have been charged half a billion dollars for a 2.3% reduction in consumption and that energy efficiency is too expensive.* The only problem is that nobody who spoke really belabored the fact that energy efficiency should be an important part of a properly prepared integrated resource plan, and is always the cheapest resource when compared to buying or building new generation.
Charlie also called the Commission's attention to the handout he had given them before the meeting showing that West Virginia's electric rates are lower than those in surrounding states. I'm not really sure how this bolstered his case that West Virginians should support unnecessary increases, such as the 6% increase this transfer will cause to their electric bills. Charlie whined that nobody who spoke mentioned the 5% rate decrease that went into effect on January 1. Would this be the same decrease that FirstEnergy proposed that the PSC not approve, and instead let the company keep as a promise payment on the Harrison scheme that had not yet been approved? The 5% decrease only came about because the PSC turned down FirstEnergy's proposal to steal your 5% decrease. That decrease, Charlie?
Charlie finished up by telling the Commission that lots of groups supported the Harrison sale, and so should they. Charlie was proud to share that the WV Coal Association and Consol supported the proposal. Just where in West Virginia did you think you were this morning, Charlie? Brilliant! I'm proud that our Commissioners were polite enough not to laugh in his face.
And then it was time for the Commission to ask FirstEnergy questions and make comment. Every one of them chewed Charlie a new one for the company's failure to show up for the citizens' public hearing and complete and utter failure to address the billing and meter reading issues. Commissioner Pellish went on a particularly vicious rant (although Pellish didn't bother to show up at the public hearing either!). He called FirstEnergy's decision to blow off the hearing a "public relations disaster" and opined that "someone should have lost their job" for making that decision. That's okay, Walt, I hear Sammy is a short-timer now anyhow...
Charlie finally admitted what I know a lot of you have been waiting to hear... "We blew it!" But then he turned right around and started again with the computer system malfunction and storm excuses, which he characterized as "the perfect storm" for which the company should be held blameless. Look, Charlie, this isn't a couple of teenaged geeks blowing up an old useless microsoft laptop in the garage, ooops! This is the careless incompetence of one of the largest electric utilities in the country that has caused severe injury to its customers. OOOOPS!
So, let's get to the vote. There wasn't one. The resolution got tabled until the next meeting because some of the Commissioners still didn't have enough information to approve it as written. The Commissioners will consider revisions to the resolution before trying again at the next meeting.
Charlie said that his frustrated little trio would be present at the next meeting, although when asked if they would be better prepared next time, he stomped off like he was mad or something. Do have a nice trip back to wherever you drove in from and be sure to visit us in Jefferson County again soon, fellas!
*Addendum: A friend of mine in Ohio has identified a verbatim match between Charlie's energy efficiency rant today and the April 2013 Testimony before the Ohio Senate Public Utilities Committee of Leila L. Vespoli, Executive Vice President and General Counsel, FirstEnergy, entitled "Revisiting Ohio’s Energy Efficiency Mandates":
"I’m sure your constituents would be surprised to learn that since 2009, Ohio’s electric customers have paid more than a half-billion dollars in monthly charges for energy efficiency programs. And so far, this mountain of customer charges has only achieved a 2.3 percent reduction in usage..."
This has got to be today's ultimate insult to the Jefferson County Commission. FirstEnergy didn't even think enough of them to spend the time preparing an original presentation for today. They just recycled old material and called it good enough. No wonder it struck me as odd, disjointed and irrelevant. Thanks for the heads up, D.!