Ohio is served by a patchwork of 31 electric distribution companies, electric co-ops and municipal electric utilities, as shown on this map.
Direct Energy has written an excellent 2-page history of energy deregulation and customer choice in Ohio. The remainder of this history section is condensed from that source.
In July 1999, Ohio restructured its energy market to allow consumers to choose their energy provider, effective January 1, 2001. Customers could choose to buy energy from Certified Retail Electric Suppliers (CRES) instead of automatically receiving it from their local utility company. Four activities that had previously been performed by investor owned utilities (IOU) were separated.
The first few years of deregulation were rocky. Customers were hesitant to switch to new suppliers or aggregators due a lack of price differences. Meanwhile, changes in the market landscape left many without choices. The northern (primarily urban) part of the state had more energy suppliers, while the southern (rural) part had fewer. Consequently, in areas where suppliers were sparse, customer choice was often effectively limited to community aggregation or the incumbent utility. Litigation over compliance with SB3 also delayed the transition to full market pricing.
In May 2008, Governor Ted Strickland signed Senate Bill 221 into law to revise PUCO’s regulatory structure. It required incumbent utilities to offer a Standard Service Offer (SSO) for customers who did not actively choose a retail supplier. PUCO was given broad authority to make sure certain utilities’ SSO proposals were “fair and equitable” to consumers.
SB 221 also required each incumbent utility to shed its power generation operations and become an electric distribution utility (EDU).
Aggregation in Ohio must be approved through a local ballot measure and, like Illinois, local governments facilitate the aggregation contract but do not assume day-to-day administration of the program.
Currently, Ohio’s deregulated market is providing its customers with lower prices, better reliability, and above all, choice. Local utilities distribute energy to all customers whether they have switched to an energy marketer, aggregator, or are the utility’s SSO customers. During the second quarter of 2014, an average of 59% of customers in all service areas had switched from IOUs to CRES. Ohio consumers can shop for a variety of offers, including fixed- and variable-rate plans, with different durations and contract terms. Competition is driving down rates because Ohio’s consumers also have the right to change their provider and choose a new one so that they are not trapped in plans that don’t work for them.
The map below shows the communities in Ohio that were participating in governmental electric aggregation as of August 3, 2017. Comparing the January 4, 2017 Ohio Public Utilities Commission (PUCO) map to the latest produced August 3, 2017 shown below, we see modest growth, particularly in townships, within those 8 months. Dark and light blue denote city and village aggregation, orange shows township aggregation and tan indicates aggregation at the county level. PUCO maintains an interactive version of this map, which allows you to zoom in and out and get additional information about jurisdictions that offers aggregation.
The largest aggregator in the state, Northeast Ohio Public Energy Council (NOPEC), serves over 500,000 customers in over 220 communities in 15 counties. NOPEC estimated in 2018 that its customers have saved more than $260 million since its inception in 2000.
Communities in Ohio can fund energy efficiency programs or other community benefits through the aggregation program. NOPEC’s $16M Powering Our Communities fund has, as of August 2017, resulted in more than 330 projects throughout Northeast Ohio. NOPEC also offers Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE) energy efficiency financing.
Additionally, NOPEC is adding new programs including – preferred pricing for municipal accounts, power at cost with variable lock-in terms, charging stations (working to provide funding for up to 40 EV charging stations in NOPEC communities), and new $6 million NOPEC Energized Community (NEC) grants.
NOPEC instituted a $9 million price reduction program in the Spring of 2018. About $5.4 million of the $9 million comes from NOPEC’s settlement with its former electric supplier. In late 2016, FirstEnergy Solutions terminated its contract to provide electricity to NOPEC customers three years early. This early termination was described here as an “ugly divorce” from NOPEC’s long-term supplier, First Energy Solutions, whose credit rating resultantly dropped to a CCC+ rating. Their new supplier, NextEra Ohio Services, offers a standard 50% renewable product for the same price. Chuck Keiper, NOPEC’s executive director stated: “The $9 million represents a good portion of the benefit NOPEC customers would have received had that contract run to term. When combined with the $25 million previously given back in the form of additional on-bill savings, these funds bring the total give back to NOPEC electric cutomers to well over $34 million from 2010 to 2016.”
Aggregation efforts in southeast Ohio through the Southeast Ohio Public Energy Council (SOPEC) continue. SOPEC current aggregation communities include the City of Athens, the Villages of Amesville and Somerset, and the unincorporated areas of Athens County. In 2017, Perry County residents voted against electrical aggregation 1,116 to 1,349, with Coolville and Chauncey voting no as well. As per the Perry County Tribune, Shawnee and New Straitsville passed electric aggregation.
Some communities offer various “green power” options through the purchase of unbundled renewable energy credits to offset the greenhouse gasses emitted by their sources of generation. RECs from wind farms are very inexpensive in the Midwest. For example, this 2015 press release from the City of Cleveland says that the cost to offset the GHGs for a typical residential customer was just $0.94/month. Cleveland offered 50% renewable electricity as its default and allowed customers to opt up to 100% renewable by paying an extra $0.47/month more (on average), or to opt down to 0% renewable and saving $0.47/month. Cleveland signed a new agreement with NOPEC that will run through May, 2020.
In 2015 NOPEC reported that it added 21 new member communities, representing growth of 10% over 2014. It also began a Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE) loan program. NOPEC’s Annual Report stated: “NOPEC governments and commercial property owners now have a source of up-front capital to tap for energy improvement projects. Our PACE financing fills a gap – specifically targeted to meet NOPEC’s commercial customers’ needs. Financing is available for energy improvement projects of $100,000 to $500,000. This is fixed-rate financing, available for up to 15 years.”
House Bill 178, which would require nearly 2 million Ohio residential customers to pay up to $1,000 each to subsidize FirstEnergy Corp.‘s aging nuclear plants, was introduced on April 10, 2017. The Chairman of the Ohio House Public Utilities Committee has suspended further hearings, and a vote, on the proposed bill. The discussion of subsidies for nuclear generation and 1950s-era coal plants is expected to continue.
Ohio’s net-metering rules appear destined for the State’s Supreme Court as utilities and their opponents dig in against each other over proposed changes. The disagreement over how customers with solar panels should be compensated for electricity they generate was on display in the Spring of 2018 before the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio. Among the more contentious changes is a section that limits the part of a customer’s bill that can be offset by solar generation.
Power A Clean Future Ohio (advocacy group for community-driven carbon reduction)
Community Energy Aggregation (An overview by the Office of the Ohio Consumers’ Counsel.)
Electric Fact Sheets (Web page of the Office of the Ohio Consumers’ Counsel)
History of Electric Regulation in Ohio (50 page PDF of a PowerPoint presentation, early 2012)
Overview of Governmental Energy Aggregation in Ohio (Web site of the Ohio Public Utilities Commission.)
Public Utilities Commission of Ohio (Regulator of electric utilities)