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    Ohio residents living in the Duke Energy Ohio service area could finally see more competition in electricity rates with the approval of a new plan by the state's energy regulator, according to the Dayton Daily News.

    Bloomberg reported on Tuesday, December 13, that the Public Utility Commission of Ohio approved the utility company's latest electricity security plan, or ESP, to lay out a way forward for electricity deregulation in the state.

    Deregulation is intended to separate certain aspects of the electricity market that cannot realistically be opened to competition from those where such a goal would be possible, primarily making utilities responsible only for transmission of energy rather than production. For consumers that means being allowed to shop for electricity suppliers while still receiving their bills from their traditional electricity company.

    According to the PUCO, the Duke Energy Ohio service area has a fairly low proportion of customers who have chosen to switch electricity providers, in part because of limited access to competitive power generation. The utility has only around 32 percent of its customers signed up with alternative electricity suppliers, though that group accounts for more than 68 percent of its electricity generation. Residential customers have been particularly slow to make the switch, with only slightly more than 30 percent receiving power from retail electricity suppliers.

    The new ESP will help to address this issue by requiring the company to organize an auction of electricity generation every six months over the next two years.

    "The plan promotes fully competitive markets while providing rate stability, and customers will begin to reap the benefits of true competition," PUCO Chairman Todd A. Snitchler told reporters on Tuesday, according to EnergyBoom.

    Aside from serving to dramatically increase the level of competition among electricity providers over the next two years, the new plan requires the utility to set aside around $1 million each year to help low-income customers and businesses attempting to improve energy efficiency.

    More importantly for the long-term benefit of Ohio residents and businesses, however, the plan requires Duke to sell off all of its generation capacity by 2015, turning the company into a purely transmission-oriented utility. This should serve to increase competition among electricity providers even more.

    Though Ohio had below-average electricity rates in 2009, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, the state's prices still ranked as the 23rd-highest in the country. Relying on coal for the vast majority of this power, these prices could go up in the near future.