Testimony at Public Utilities Commission of Ohio (PUCO) Public Hearing on First Energy’s “Electric Security Plan” Proposal

Greg Coleridge / Monday, January 20, 2015 / Cleveland City Hall

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[Note: First Energy corporations wants PUCO guarantees on prices to subsidize it nuclear and coal power plants. Several hearings by the PUCO regulatory agency to receive public testimony are being held across Ohio]

I testify this evening not only as a consumer, but also as a citizen.

As a consumer, I’m concerned about the rising prices of energy that seem unwarranted and little more than a corporate bail out.

But as a citizen, I’m even more concerned — concerned about decision-making, power and democracy – as they relate to not only First Energy corporation but also the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio (PUCO).

Former Cleveland Mayor Tom Johnson’s warning a century ago is still relevant today: “I believe in municipal ownership of all public service monopolies… because if you do not own them, they will in time own you, they will rule your politics, corrupt your institutions and finally destroy your liberties.”

First Energy corporation has certainly come to rule our politics and corrupt our legislative institution with their hot shot lobbyists and piles of campaign investments, I mean “contributions,” to many of the same Ohio legislators who voted to delay green energy standards.

photoBut it’s not just First Energy corporation that is a threat to our democracy. Regulatory agencies like PUCO, which shield corporate utilities serve to effectively absorb our time, energy and resources and to distract our attention from demanding statewide legislation, citizen initiatives and public hearings on the more fundamental issue of ending corporate owned utilities.

Past and more recent history demonstrates that public owned utilities provide more democratically accountable and cheaper energy. Samuel Insull was right a century ago about electricity being a “natural monopoly.” His belief, though, that regulation would protect utility monopolies from both private competition and outright public ownership was anti-democratic. Milwaukee Mayor Daniel Hoan in 1907 said it best about electric regulatory commissions: “No shrewder piece of political humbuggery and downright fraud has ever been placed upon the statute books. It’s supposed to be legislation for the people. In fact, it’s legislation for the power oligarchy.”

No matter the outcome of these hearings, the core problem is that We the People are not directly in control of our energy. Corporate utilities, using PUCO as a shield, are in charge. First Energy corporation’s market monopoly socialism in which “heads, they win, tails, we lose” both politically and in our pocketbooks doesn’t have to happen. It wasn’t always like it is now. It doesn’t have to continue.

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These hearings are akin to a democracy “theme park” that looks real and legit on the surface but distracts and distorts from the real issues.

Regulatory agencies regulate us. They regulate our ability to think outside the regulatory box – to imagine what real definition, power, control, and democracy could be.

Yes, the answer here tonight is to oppose the corporate bailout of First Energy. But the answer to the fundamental problem of private monopolies is more democracy through public control – the likes of which would make Tom Johnson proud.

We need to think and act not just like consumers, but also as citizens.

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