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Ohio consumer watchdog wants state investigation into AEP’s forced outages

Daniel Konik
Statehouse News Bureau

The Ohio Consumers’ Counsel wants the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio to hire an independent auditor and conduct local hearings in order to take a closer look into AEP’s decision to shut off power to thousands of customers in June.

Nearly 250,000 people lost power after storms rolled through central Ohio on June 13, a heat wave throughout the week exacerbated the problem for customers without power.

AEP officials said they were asked by PJM Interconnection — operators of the grid that serves 13 states and Washington, D.C. — to take different zones offline in order to avoid an even larger blackout.

Among the questions listed in their request for a special audit, the consumers’ counsel has asked for AEP to explain the reasons behind the outages, were the outages the result of storms or something else, and what impact did the outages have on low-income and high-risk communities.

“These low-income neighborhoods have fewer resources to cover the lost wages and spoiled food resulting from AEP’s outages,” the consumers’ counsel filing to the PUCO stated.

Mike Haugh, director of analytical services for the Ohio Consumers’ Counsel, said this case is important to utility customers around the state who continue to see transmission costs on their electric bills go up.

“Where are these dollars going? These dollars should be providing more reliability to consumers that are paying for them,” said Haugh.

AEP officials have said they are committed to learning more about the events that led to the outages as well.

Marc Reitter, AEP President and COO, said its transmission organization is "working hard" to understand what happened after the storms took out more than 350 poles and 2,100 wires.

Earlier this month, Reitter said the company has veteran employees that “never experienced these load management emergencies” and that they’re learning as they go.

AEP and PJM Interconnection is expected to deliver a presentation before the PUCO on July 13 to explain what they have discovered since the outages. The utility has also donated $1 million to local organizations and food banks in response to the crisis families went through in June.