Top Ohio regulator who fought RPS resigns after FBI raid

Source: By Jeffrey Tomich, E&E News reporter • Posted: Monday, November 23, 2020

The resignation of Sam Randazzo, chairman of the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio, also follows disclosure by FirstEnergy Corp. that former executives made a $4 million payment in 2019 to a consulting business affiliated with an individual who would go on to become a state utility regulator (Energywire, Nov. 20).

The FirstEnergy disclosure in a regulatory filing didn’t identify the individual, but Randazzo is the only PUCO member appointed over the last two years who operated consulting businesses. One of those businesses, the Sustainability Funding Alliance of Ohio, was listed as a creditor in 2018 bankruptcy filings by FirstEnergy Solutions, which was a FirstEnergy subsidiary at the time.

It’s so far unclear how the FBI raid of Randazzo’s home and the FirstEnergy payments disclosed Thursday may be linked with the ongoing federal investigation involving H.B. 6, which ended Ohio’s clean energy standards and authorized more than $1 billion in nuclear and coal plant subsidies.

But in his resignation letter to Gov. Mike DeWine (R), Randazzo said that “the impression left will, right or wrong, fuel suspicions about and controversy over decisions I may render in my current capacity.”

DeWine appointed Randazzo to PUCO in early 2019, a choice that immediately drew criticism from renewable energy advocates, who cited Randazzo’s opposition to the state’s renewable energy standard and work on behalf of groups opposing wind development at the Ohio Power Siting Board.

While Randazzo never took a formal position on H.B. 6, he remained critical of renewable energy and energy efficiency mandates that were effectively ended by the bill’s passage.

The circumstances around Randazzo’s resignation quickly prompted renewed calls by Democrats and clean energy advocates to repeal H.B. 6, the controversial energy law at the center of the ongoing bribery scandal.

“The dominoes continue to fall as Ohioans keep learning just how deep the corruption that created HB6 is,” state Rep. David Leland, the ranking Democrat on a House committee weighing legislation to repeal the bill, said in a statement. “So far, we have had five federal indictments, two guilty pleas, five energy executives that have been terminated and now the top utility regulator in the state and an architect of HB 6 has resigned.”

So far, Ohio legislators have been slow to act on calls by DeWine, state Attorney General Dave Yost (R) and others to repeal the law. Meanwhile, some GOP legislators have continued to insist it is in the best interest of utility customers despite the ongoing scandal.

PUCO Vice Chair Beth Trombold will lead the commission until a new chair is named.

A 12-member nominating council will screen candidates and make a recommendation to DeWine.