Cincinnati And Duke Fighting Again, This Time About Backup Power

Oct 6, 2016

Credit Provided / Duke Energy

The City of Cincinnati and Duke Energy are fighting again.

This time it's about additional charges for providing backup power for "critical facilities" in the city.

The city manager said in an October 4 memo Duke informed the city last month that it intends to charge a "backup delivery point capacity charge" effective September 1.  

That charge, or rider, could increase the city's electric bills by $1.15 million per year.  It would apply to facilities operated by the Greater Cincinnati Water Works, the Metropolitan Sewer District and Lunken Airport.

The manager said in the memo the Duke charge "will effectively result in water and sewer rate payers subsidizing the costs of Duke's system.  The city has an obligation to protect the interest of those who will bear the brunt of this action."

The city said when power is lost on Duke's primary electric feeder at these facilities, there is a switch that automatically changes to a backup supply until the primary service is restored.  The city argues these arrangements have been in place for decades without any additional charges, and the setups benefit other customers besides the city.

The Public Utilities Commission of Ohio (PUCO) approved the rider for this charge in 2009, and Duke notified the city in November 2015 it intended to start charging the city.  

The city manager said in his memo that "Duke declined the city's efforts to negotiate a more reasonable rate."  

The city solicitor filed a lawsuit in September with the PUCO to challenge the rider.  City officials are also coordinating with Hamilton County, which the city said has similar concerns.

"The city challenges Duke's proposal to charge the full primary distribution rate for backup access as far exceeding Duke's actual cost of service in terms of infrastructure investment, maintenance and access," the memo said.

The Ohio EPA requires standby power service for water and sewer facilities.  Backup power is also required at Lunken Airport so safety systems are not impaired.

Duke Energy spokeswoman Sally Thelen declined an interview request to discuss the issue.

"We are aware of the lawsuit and are reviewing it now," Thelen wrote in an e-mail. "Duke Energy does not comment on pending litigation."

The latest scuffle follows a court fight about who should pay $15 million to relocate Duke's utilities for the streetcar project.  The city lost that case.  Cincinnati is also intervening with the PUCO about Duke's plans for the Central Corridor Natural Gas Pipeline project, and the company's application that would end sending employees to customers' homes before shutting off their electric for unpaid bills.