Power Struggle

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Southeastern Ohio was expected to benefit when a bill was passed in the late 1990's, encouraging competition among the state's electric companies, but to date, Allegheny Power remains the only power company serving Washington County.

"In this area, there's been no competition that's come about as a result of the previous legislation. That's why we're trying to extend the deadline," Jimmy Stewart says.

Stewart and fellow representative Nancy Hollister have introduced new legislation in the Ohio House. It extends by two years the period for putting a lid on electric rates, while competing companies move into the area. The original deadline for most utilities serving Ohio was 2005. Allegheny's was 2003.

"This simply puts Allegheny Power in the same boat with the rest of the utilities in Ohio. It allows us more time to see if we are going to have a competitive market," says Nancy Hollister.

Both representatives admit the fault doesn't lie only with Allegheny Power. It also has to do with a number of problems, none of which were foreseen when the original legislation was passed a few years ago, but don't think it's just residential consumers who stand to benefit from utility competition. Area industries say they stand to gain as well.

"As the costs increase in that area, we have to continue to look for other places to reduce costs, and that could affect employment in our plant and other plants in the valley," says Bob Roesch.

As with any legislation, the bill has to pass the full House and Senate. How legislators having to deal with other power-related issues will react isn't certain. On Thursday, Allegheny Power's CEO told us the company is emerging from financial problems, some of which involve the sale of electricity to California during its power crisis.