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Utility Reform On The Table As Ohioans Face Tough Choice: “Heat, or Eat”

November 20, 2007

Columbus, OH – As Ohioans' thoughts turn to Thanksgiving meals, many are facing a tough choice this winter: "heat or eat." Today, some of the state's nonprofit groups are calling for a return to strong utility regulation to help tackle the problem.

Lisa Hamler-Fugitt with the Ohio Association of Second Harvest Foodbanks says deregulation hasn't resulted in promised rate cuts for electricity. That's just one reason that more cash-strapped Ohioans are now seeking emergency food, with family grocery budgets that are being drained by rising utility costs.

"Higher utility bills often force low-income Ohioans to choose between paying home heating bills or buying enough food to feed their families. Both are basic necessities and no Ohio family can be without either this winter."

Dave Rinebolt with Ohio Partners for Affordable Energy believes the deregulated system will only get worse because utility companies are, in effect, monopolies. He points to new documentation from the State Legislature indicating utility companies are seeking massive rate hikes.

"Utilities proposed amendments that would have essentially locked in rate increases of over 70 percent over the next three years. That's why we have to reform the current method of regulating them."

Hamler-Fugitt says the increase in demand comes as food banks are already facing shortages, and having to ration food. She hopes the reform plan just passed by the Ohio Senate will rein in spiraling utility costs, by changing the way utility companies set their rates.

Rob Ferrett/Kevin Clay, Public News Service - OH