COLUMBUS, OHIO - Ohio's largest electric utility, American Electric Power, is supporting a measure in the Ohio Legislature to deregulate electricity in the state by Jan. 1, 1998. But William Lhota, AEP executive vice president, said the target date is a bit optimistic.
``I don't think it's going to happen by '98, but I do think it's going to happen shortly thereafter,'' probably within three to five years, he said.
Deregulation of electricity is sweeping the nation, but the issue is playing out at the state level. At the April 30 Ohio Plastics Summit in Columbus, a session on deregulation drew a full house of about 50 industry officials eager to learn about lower rates. Electricity accounts for 70 percent of energy used by the industry, Lhota said.
Hearings just started on Ohio House Bill 653, sponsored by Ron Amstutz, R-Wooster. The bill would allow retail customers to choose electric suppliers and buy at market rates. In a process called ``retail wheeling,'' power from competing firms would flow over existing distribution lines.
Prices will come down state-wide, but the impact of deregulation will be different depending on the region of the state, said Douglas Maag, director of energy and water rates for the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio. Be-cause of their high rates, electric producers in the northern half of Ohio ``quite frankly, are scared to death'' of deregulation, Maag said.
AEP serves 1.3 million Ohio customers, in 61 of the state's 88 counties.
Lhota said an industry-run transmission network would act as an ``air traffic controller'' to move power to end users and monitor quality. AEC officials believe the networks could be set up to serve the United States.
Both speakers urged companies to read new electricity contracts carefully, or avoid signing long contracts, until deregulation details are worked out.