A central Ohio lawmaker is trying to advance legislation that would limit a practice known as submetering.

A central Ohio lawmaker is trying to advance legislation that would limit a practice known as submetering.

State Rep. Mike Duffey (R-Worthington) introduced a bill in August that would give the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio the power to adopt rules on submetering within one year.

Submetering refers to the practice of landlords and condominium managers charging individual tenants for electricity. According to Duffey and others fighting for the legislation, renters often are charged more than the standard service offer rate or are on the hook for power supplied to common areas, creating a gap between electricity used and fees charged.

Duffey said the bill would target "landlords who choose to mark up your electricity and don't tell you about it, or if they do tell you about it, it's buried in the details of the contract."

He said one of the major issues in his fight is that there isn't a lot of available data on submetering.

He said he estimates more than 30,000 are affected in central Ohio alone.

"The statistics are hard to get on exactly how much it's going up, but we have a ton of individual consumer bills that we can compare," he said. "But there's no central reporting for it. There's no regulation. It's the wild, wild west right now."

Duffey said the issue is one of "consumer protection" for non-AEP energy providers. While AEP is available to everyone in central Ohio and regulated by the state, other providers aren't.

"There's an argument that AEP and the other public utilities will serve every customer, and they're happy to," he said. "There's no reason why they wouldn't serve them ... so why would we allow it to exist if it didn't offer a better deal than the public utilities? We know that if we only have AEP, it's going to be cheaper."

PUCO was included in Duffey's bill because the organization is involved in three pending cases related to submetering. Two cases were filed against PUCO by outside sources, while the commission opened its own case looking into submetering.

Matt Schilling, PUCO spokesman, said there were no updates in any of the three cases, though he would "expect to move on them sometime in the next couple of months."

He said PUCO "doesn't comment on pending legislation," but would not fight what lawmakers decide.

"The PUCO is a creature of statute," he said. "We'll comply with any laws the general assembly passes."

The bill is Duffey's second attempt to address submetering. He introduced a bill last year that never made it to the floor. In that version, he spelled out restrictions rather than letting PUCO set theirs. He said he hopes that flexibility will make a difference this time.

The new bill will need to make it past the rules and regulations committee and be assigned to another committee. Duffey said it's likely that would be the public utilities committee.

Knowing lobbyists and other interest groups will push back on the idea, Duffey said it's far overdue, and looks to other states that ban the practice of submetering for inspiration.

"What do you do when someone on Social Security or disability is now paying $50 more per month on electric charges for no good reason? And the landlords get a kickback on it, too, so it's kind of like hidden rent," he said.

"Rent is rent and everyone should know what rent is. If you're trying to mark up the electric bill, that's basically rent. You should put it in the rent instead of the electric bill."

@ThisWeekAndrew