Power struggle

If the latest dispute between Hancock-Wood Electric Cooperative and American Electric Power sounds familiar, it is.
Last year, the two utilities sparred over AEP acquiring Rowmark’s electric business even though Rowmark was in H-W’s territory, or had been until it was annexed into the city. Now, H-W is hoping to keep AEP from doing the same with new Campbell Soup Supply Co. plant to be located on the north side of Findlay.
About 70 percent of the Campbell property is in H-W’s territory, the remainder is within the city limits, where AEP has a franchise agreement to provide power.
Prior to Rowmark, such conflicts were worked out between the utilities. If AEP wanted to provide electricity to a business in H-W’s territory, AEP would trade for a similar “load” within the city.
Such compromises avoided the utilities having to take their turf battles to the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio, which has ultimate jurisdiction over utility boundaries, including in the gray areas where they overlap.
Last year H-W wanted to take the Romark issue to Columbus, but PUCO guidelines require the agency to know the intent of the city in such matters.
That prompted H-W to seek legislation which would have changed the city’s franchise agreement with AEP. The ordinance, however, was turned down by council, 6-4.
Now H-W’s concern is that AEP will acquire Campbell’s electric business without swapping a load. That has brought the issue back before council where Councilwoman Holly Frische has requested similar legislation to last year’s.
Council should approve the ordinance this time around.
The franchise issue isn’t going away and could end up impacting many throughout the Hanocck County. Because it has invested heavily into electric infrastructure throughout its territory, H-W has said losing customers to AEP, especially major consumers of power, could mean a rate increase for its customers.
No one is against economic development in Hancock County. Utilities should be able to fight for new business, but the rules should be fair.
There’s no good reason for the city to try to stay in the middle of this dispute. As AEP’s franchise with Findlay grows with each annexation, H-W’s shrinks. If the days of playing nice and amicable land swaps are gone, then such matters will have to be hashed out between attorneys and the PUCO.
If council kicks the can down the road again, like it did last year, the issue will resurface again, and again. The city needs to get out of the way of competition for electricity and grant H-W an exclusive right to its territorial franchise.
Doing so would allow the PUCO to draw the line.



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