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Ohio utility regulators prepare for coming changes in use of electricity

By: Mark Williams |

A wave of change is coming in the ways consumers and businesses use electricity — think electric vehicles or batteries that store electricity — and state utility regulators want to be ready.

The Public Utilities Commission of Ohio on Wednesday released a report called PowerForward: A Roadmap to Ohio’s Electricity Future that is meant to serve as a guide to show how the state’s systems of distributing electricity can be improved through innovation.

“The grid has to be modernized, its infrastructure and method of delivery are many, many decades old,” PUCO Chairman Asim Haque said after the commission approved the report. “Our utilities already have, and will continue to, make filings to push their modernization objectives, and so this roadmap is very timely — it will help the commission make educated, informed decisions on these utility filings.”

Haque compared coming power-use changes to an iPhone. While all iPhone customers are using a similar device, the way consumers use it can differ considerably.

Other states have issued similar reports in recent years that often have been accompanied by goals such as getting a specific amount of electricity from renewable energy.

But Haque said the commission’s conservative approach is to let markets dictate how change happens, with a focus on customers.

“These applications should give customers more control over how they engage with their electric service, and could have many tangible benefits depending on what the customer wants, including lower monthly bills,” Haque said.

The report is based on a year-long effort by the commission and its staff aimed at understanding how the grid can be modernized through innovation and how that innovation can best serve consumers. The report is not binding.

Utilities already are taking some efforts to modernize the grid.

American Electric Power Ohio, for example, is installing smart meters at homes and businesses that can detect outages immediately and provide customers data on how they use electricity. It also has launched a rebate program to provide financial incentives to businesses, apartment buildings and government agencies to install charging stations for electric vehicles.

The key will be to make investments as efficiently as possible, said Marc Reitter, the company’s vice president of regulatory and finance who hadn’t had a chance to fully review the report.

“We are in agreement that this modernization effort is necessary,” he said.