Thursday, November 20, 2008, 11/20/2008 09:15:00 AM

Duke Energy Refund Data Claimed to Be Trade Secret - Ohio Supreme Court Considering Matter

By Todd
Duke Energy sells electricity in Ohio. They sell that electricity to individuals and companies. Some of those companies are BIG users of electricity. As electricity is a regulated utility, rate increases are effected by political pressures. Big companies routinely have help when political pressures are in play.

Duke Energy allegedly cut a number of side deals with its biggest electrical customers to withdraw their opposition to rate increases. The nature of the side deals was in the form of a refund - bigger users got bigger refunds. Individuals, however, did not get a refund. They got mad.

Ohio has an office called Consumers' Counsel. This is an office charged to look out for consumers. With regard to this rate increase, they thought it sounded fishy. They asked for the documents that identified the amount of the rebates. The Public Utilities Commission of Ohio holds those documents. They wouldn't give them up, claiming they contained Duke Energy's trade secrets.

We get a sense the argument goes like this: Duke Energy has competitors. Those competitors don't know the refunds Duke Energy gives its big customers. Those competitors would benefit competitively if they learned the amount of those refunds. They could offer those customers competitive benefits if they learned the amount of the refunds.

The Consumers' Counsel is apparently not buying that argument. They are arguing that the public has a right to know if individuals got sold out in a sweetheart deal for big companies. The Ohio Supreme Court is considering the issue.

We'll keep an eye on this one for you.

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