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FirstEnergy must repay customers over lobbying for bailout

February 4, 2022 GMT

AKRON, Ohio (AP) — Federal regulators told FirstEnergy Corp. to refund customers after an audit found the electricity provider didn’t properly track some of the $71 million it spent on lobbying for a nuclear plant bailout at the center of a state government bribery scheme.

The audit found that the improper accounting caused FirstEnergy to overcharge customers and that the utility may have done so to conceal or mislead how much it was spending on lobbying and why.

It said $1.5 million of the lobbying expenses came from ratepayers.

Regulators gave the company 60 days to come up with a plan to give customers refunds, according to an audit released Friday by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.

FirstEnergy spokesman Mark Durbin said the utility accepted the findings and recommendations in the audit and that changes in its accounting practices have been made or are underway.

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FirstEnergy has faced multiple investigations over its role in a $60 million bribery scheme to win a legislative bailout in 2019 for two nuclear plants operated at the time by a wholly-owned subsidiary.

The Akron-based utility agreed in July to pay $230 million in penalties to avoid federal prosecution.

FirstEnergy has said it has made significant strides in reforming the company’s policies in the wake of the scandal brought to light in 2020 when federal officials arrested Ohio House Speaker Larry Householder and four associates.

Householder, who later was removed as speaker and expelled from the House, has pleaded not guilty to a federal conspiracy charge.

The audit released Friday found that FirstEnergy paid $25 million for lobbying expenses related to the bailout and that FirstEnergy Solutions, a former subsidiary, paid $44 million.