Renewables Groups Disagree Over Benefits of Utility Merger

Environmental groups in Pennsylvania disagree over the impact on renewable energy in the state as a result of a major merger of two utilities.

HARRISBURG, Pennsylvania, US, 2001-06-13 [SolarAccess.com] Environmental groups in Pennsylvania disagree over the impact on renewable energy in the state as a result of a major merger of two utilities. The Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission will consider the merger of FirstEnergy and General Public Utilities this week. An agreement between the parties will include protection of rate caps that were negotiated in the original GPU restructuring case, and will provide $15 million for investments in renewable energy. The agreement a “major win for both the environment and consumers,” according to John Hanger, president and CEO of Citizens for Pennsylvania’s Future. He predicts the agreement should be a model demand response program for the rest of the United States. “PennFuture had three goals going into these discussions: to protect consumers, advance clean renewable energy, and defend the rate cap, and we have achieved each one of our goals,” he explains. GPU will offer advanced meter systems to provide real-time electricity costs and the ability for consumers to shift consumption to cheaper time periods. “Allowing ordinary customers to use and pay for electricity based on the real cost, rather than the average cost, will help customers save money and use electricity wisely,” he explains. “These tools will result in less electricity usage during peak times, which will improve reliability, reduce prices for all consumers, and go a long way towards reducing the harm to the environment and human health caused by mid-day peak electricity use.” “This new investment in wind, solar and other clean energy is not just good for the environment,” says Hanger. “This new investment will also help expand our economy, adding to Pennsylvania’s growing reputation as the renewable energy capital of the eastern U.S.” However, a utility watchdog group says the proposed settlement is a “bad deal” for GPU ratepayers, for competition and for the environment. FirstEnergy has agreed to provide $15 million for renewable energy projects, but the company will control $10 million of that amount. “It is not a green company; they cannot be trusted to spend this money on legitimate renewable energy projects,” says David Hughes, executive director of Citizen Power. “Citizen Power is not going to support a settlement that gives FirstEnergy the ability to limit competition and green power development in Pennsylvania.” Citizen Power wants the PUC to reject this settlement proposal and protect ratepayers and Pennsylvania’s fledgling competitive electricity market. “The Governor and notable others have made it clear they wanted the promised benefits of deregulation to be preserved,” adds Hughes. “This deal gives FirstEnergy tremendous market power in Pennsylvania, while letting its proponents claim that the price cap was not broken. This claim is not true. GPU customers are going to pay higher bills if this settlement is approved.”

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