The evolving investigation into an alleged $61 million bribery scheme involving Ohio lawmakers and new revelations from utility FirstEnergy have led to the resignation of the state’s high utility regulator.
Sam Randazzo, chair of the Public Utilities Fee of Ohio (PUCO), introduced his resignation Friday. The resignation comes days after the FBI searched Randazzo’s dwelling as a part of an investigation that’s led to the arrest of Ohio Home Speaker Larry Householder and two plea agreements from his associates in relation to an alleged scheme to funnel funds to state lawmakers to make sure the passage of Home Invoice 6.
On Thursday, FirstEnergy disclosed a $four million fee in 2019 to terminate a consulting settlement with “an entity related to a person who subsequently was appointed to a full-time function as an Ohio authorities official instantly concerned in regulating” FirstEnergy’s Ohio distribution utilities.
Randazzo, a longtime utility lawyer and marketing consultant, beforehand labored for FirstEnergy Options, the previous era arm of FirstEnergy which filed for chapter safety in 2018 and emerged as a standalone firm underneath the identify Power Harbor earlier this yr.
Federal prosecutors have made it clear that the utility and its associates are believed to be the supply of $61 million funneled via a nonprofit group to take care of the alleged felony conspiracy by Householder and 4 associates.
In his Friday resignation letter to Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine, the Republican who appointed Randazzo as PUCO chair in 2019, Randazzo wrote that these allegations and “the accompanying publicity will, proper or fallacious, gasoline suspicions about and controversy over selections I could render in my present capability.”
FirstEnergy’s 10-Q submitting with the U.S. Securities and Change Fee cited the $four million fee as proof that “sure former members of senior administration violated sure FirstEnergy insurance policies and its code of conduct.” FirstEnergy’s board of administrators fired CEO Charles Jones and two different senior executives in late October on the identical grounds of violating insurance policies and codes of conduct.
Federal prosecutors haven’t implied wrongdoing on the a part of Randazzo, FirstEnergy, Power Harbor or Charles Jones. FirstEnergy’s disclosure of the $four million fee believed to be directed to Randazzo has not been linked to the $61 million related to the alleged bribery scheme.
Implications for Ohio power regulation and nuclear power subsidies
Nonetheless, FirstEnergy’s disclosure and Randazzo’s resignation did draw hearth from teams which have criticized the apply of appointing individuals who have labored for Ohio utilities to the state physique tasked with regulating them.
“Utility shoppers might imagine the regulatory system is rigged towards them. That concern is comprehensible,” stated Bruce Weston, director of state ratepayer advocate Ohio Shoppers’ Counsel, in a Friday assertion. “Till right now, a majority of commissioners, three of 5, have labored for utilities that the PUCO regulates.”
“Issues want to alter and that change ought to start with actual reform of how PUCO commissioners are appointed and who will get appointed on this state,” stated Weston. The counsel is advocating for reforms to shift the collection of PUCO commissioners to direct elections and to impose transparency guidelines to restrict utility spending on these elections.
Randazzo is understood for his opposition to renewable power throughout his stints as a utility marketing consultant and lobbyist. In testimony supporting Home Invoice 6, he supported its provisions decreasing state funding for renewable power and power effectivity. He additionally sits on the head of the Ohio Energy Siting Board, which earlier this yr issued a allow for a proposed Lake Erie offshore wind challenge that included provisions that may limit its means to generate energy for a lot of the yr, primarily killing the challenge in line with its builders.
Home Invoice 6 directs greater than $1 billion in state utility ratepayer subsidies to the Davis-Besse and Perry nuclear energy vegetation owned by Power Harbor. Allegations that Householder and associates used $61 million in FirstEnergy cash to safe its passage and defend it towards a failed common referendum final yr have heightened calls from opponents to repeal it.
“The ignominious departure of Chairman Randazzo right now will probably preserve strain on Ohio lawmakers to carry ahead some kind of modification to HB 6,” Rob Rains, an analyst with Washington Evaluation, stated in a Friday interview.
It’s probably that the Republicans who’re in command of each homes of Ohio’s legislature will search to retain HB 6’s help of the 2 nuclear energy vegetation essential to the state’s financial system, in addition to its cuts to renewable power and effectivity funding, which have been longtime Republican targets, Rains added.
However it’s additionally probably that lawmakers will search to introduce measures now missing in HB 6 to pressure Power Harbor to reveal extra monetary particulars of its nuclear energy vegetation, he stated. That would embrace “some certification that both the necessity exists or that another…set of standards has been glad” to obtain the clear air credit anticipated to channel between $150 million and $200 million per yr in ratepayer funds to take care of their profitability and permit them to remain open.