By Ted Caddell
AEP Ohio has reached a settlement with Public Utilities Commission of Ohio staff and others on an eight-year power purchase agreement, winning the support of the Sierra Club with a promise to double the state’s wind generation and nearly quintuple its solar capacity.
The settlement provides guaranteed income for the output of American Electric Power’s 2,671-MW ownership share of nine plants, as well as the company’s 423-MW contractual share of Ohio Valley Electric Corp.’s generating fleet, until May 2024, the company announced Monday.
The Sierra Club, which had rejected a similar deal reached by FirstEnergy two weeks ago, is one of 10 parties that signed on to the settlement or agreed not to oppose it. (See FirstEnergy, PUCO Staff Reach Settlement on PPA for Ohio Merchant Plants.)
AEP said the agreement, which still needs to be approved by PUCO, would raise a typical residential customer’s bill by 62 cents/month. But when coupled with its recently approved Electric Security Plan, rates will be $9/month less than rates a year ago, the company said.
AEP also predicted that the settlement agreement would result in savings to consumers of $721 million over its eight-year life.
Opponents say AEP’s projections assume an unlikely increase in natural gas costs in the later years. The Ohio Consumers’ Counsel (OCC) has predicted that the deal would cost consumers an extra $2 billion.
Minutes after AEP announced the settlement agreement, the OCC issued a release criticizing it.
“It’s a sad day for AEP’s consumers when, 16 years after the 1999 deregulation law, the government is being asked to impose charges on consumers for a bailout of deregulated power plants,” said Consumers’ Counsel Bruce Weston, who also opposed the FirstEnergy agreement. “Consumers should not be charged a penny more than the cost of power in the market.”
Many of the same companies and associations who are denouncing the settlement also criticized a similar agreement with FirstEnergy. Dynegy and Talen Energy have threatened to sue over the FirstEnergy deal, a warning repeated by Dynegy CEO Robert Flexon on Monday. “Dynegy will continue to fight for market-based policies that treat all forms of power generation equally through advocacy and litigation, if necessary, to prohibit these power purchase agreements from being enacted,” Flexon said. (See Merchant Generators Lead Opposition to FirstEnergy-Ohio Settlement.)The PJM Power Providers Group (P3) and the Electric Power Supply Association also blasted the agreement.
“It just doesn’t make sense that in the face of overwhelming testimony that competitive markets are working to push electricity rates to historically low levels in Ohio that the PUCO staff would yet again agree to a misguided proposal that will not improve reliability, will not reduce volatility, will force consumer to pay more for power and will drive innovation out of the state,” P3 President Glen Thomas said.
Part of the AEP agreement is a commitment to retire or convert some of its coal-fired generators to natural gas. It also includes commitments to develop 900 MW of wind and solar projects, continued support for energy efficiency programs and up to $100 million in customer credits.
It was this combination of sweeteners that brought the Sierra Club into the fold. While the group was harsh in its criticism of the FirstEnergy deal — saying “PUCO’s staff decision to move forward with a backroom deal to bailout FirstEnergy’s aging power plants is insulting to Ohio utility customers” — it came out in support of the AEP plan.
“The proposed stipulation reflects a very difficult yet pragmatic discussion between AEP and Sierra Club,” senior campaign representative Daniel Sawmiller told The Columbus Dispatch. “While nobody will call this deal perfect, we’re proud of what it accomplishes toward reinvigorating Ohio’s clean energy economy and moving beyond coal.”
The group was swayed by AEP’s commitment to develop 500 MW of wind generation and 400 MW of solar within five years.
Ohio’s current installed wind capacity of 435 MW ranks 26th in the nation and contributes less than 1% of its in-state generation, according to the American Wind Energy Association. Another 259 MW is under construction.
The state has 106 MW of solar, ranking it 20th in the country, according to the Solar Energy Industries Association.
The nine AEP generating stations covered by the agreement are: Cardinal Unit 1 in Brilliant; Conesville Units 4-6 in Conesville; Stuart Units 1-4 in Aberdeen; and Zimmer Unit 1 in Moscow.
The environmental commitments to its plants cover converting Conesville Units 5 and 6 to co-fire natural gas by Dec. 31, 2017, and retiring, refueling or repowering Conesville Units 5 and 6 and Cardinal Unit 1 to only use natural gas by the end of 2029 and 2030.
In addition to PUCO staff and the Sierra Club, AEP said Ohio Partners for Affordable Energy, Ohio Energy Group, Ohio Hospital Association, Mid-Atlantic Renewable Energy Coalition and three competitive retail energy suppliers had agreed to sign or not oppose the settlement.
“This agreement addresses many of the concerns raised by a diverse group of parties including advocates for low-income customers, environmental organizations, industrial and commercial customers and competitive energy suppliers,” said Pablo Vegas, CEO of AEP Ohio.
The Ohio Environmental Council was among those not swayed. “We’re still very much opposed to this idea that consumers are being forced to pay for dirty energy,” Trish Demeter, the council’s managing director of energy and clean air programs, told The Columbus Dispatch.