I’m writing this in-between Interested Party meetings with House members on Ohio House Bill 247. This is an interesting bill. It is generally about smart grid, and also would redefine what types of services utilities can get involved in. Traditionally, utilities activities are limited to monopoly services – distribution infrastructure and standard offers. All ‘competitive’ services have to be offered through unregulated utility subsidiaries. The bill would allow utilities to offer competitive services directly, which means ratepayers like you and I could be subsidizing those products, even though we don’t use them.

A perfect example is electric vehicle charging. Competitive suppliers want the utilities to stay out of this space. Utilities seem to want in. OPAE is worried about our clients; the likelihood of seeing low-income customers driving a Prius is not high, so charging stations in low-income neighborhoods are pretty useless. Why should our clients subsidize technologies that only wealthy people can afford?

That’s the sort of issue we are wrangling with here. OPAE sees this as an opportunity to wave the flag for consumer protections. Require personal notice before disconnection (a requirement the Commission has waived in AEP territory, and waiver requests have been filed by other utilities as well). Forbid prepay meters, which disconnect customers, in some cases by an average of 8 times a month. Electricity service is not the same thing as a cell phone; a cell phone won’t refrigerate your food or allow you to run a furnace.

OPAE has a list of ‘wants’ to add to Ohio House Bill 247 that will benefit low-income families, and will do its best to protect our clients from subsidizing wealthy customers.