Ohio schools join to fight AEP rate increase

ANDREW WELSH-HUGGINS Associated Press Published:

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) -- School groups have banded together to fight electric rate increases that they say are burdensome at a time of a weak economy and continued budget cuts.

Three of the state's largest school groups have asked state utility regulators to give districts special consideration as they reconsider the increase that took effect last month for American Electric Power.

"Schools have implemented conservation efforts and electricity management practices to reduce their operating costs," said David Varda, executive director of the Ohio Association of School Business Officials. "This new turn of events would wipe out much of the progress made with those efforts."

The Public Utilities Commission of Ohio planned a hearing Thursday to reconsider the AEP increases. The commission in December approved a $300 million base-rate increase for AEP to generate electricity, about half of what the Columbus-based company had asked for. The changes, affecting all customers including businesses, took effect in January.

At the time, the commission said the complete impact on customers wouldn't be known until AEP files rate schedules to accompany the approved increase.

AEP spokesman Jeff Rennie said the company has been involved in discussions with the commission. He reserved further comment until after the Thursday hearing.

Commission chairman Todd Snitchler said this month that the panel acknowledged the negative impact of its decision on rates. "To those affected customers, we, too, are deeply concerned and are fully committed to addressing the situation quickly," Snitchler said Feb. 10.

The school business officials group joined the Ohio School Boards Association and the Buckeye Association of School Administrators in raising their concerns in a letter to the commission Tuesday. They said the increases, coming during the middle of schools' budgetary year, could force schools to further cut staff and programs.

Ohio governments and small businesses have also complained about the increase.

The commission has received more than 370 complaints about business rates since the higher costs took effect.

AEP had earlier said it was concerned about the rates and was working to address their effects. The company, along with the Ohio Manufacturers Association energy group, had formally asked the commission to take another look at the rates from the perspective of small businesses.

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Associated Press writer JoAnne Viviano contributed to this report.