Attorney General Andy Beshear is supporting the actions of two Eastern Kentucky lawmakers seeking stronger protections for utility customers before a state regulatory agency.
Rep. Chris Harris, of Forest Hills, and Rep. Angie Hatton, of Whitesburg, are filing legislation giving the Public Service Commission (PSC) broader authority to hold utilities more accountable when considering potential bill increases for Kentuckians.
The legislation mandates the PSC consider whether proposed or current rates are affordable for residential customers; simplifies bills by reducing the number and amount of charges that are recovered through line items and customer charges; allows the PSC to consider whether a utility is providing its customers good or bad service in setting rates; and provides stronger oversight by requiring periodic management and operations audits of the Commonwealth’s largest utilities.
“The provisions proposed in this legislation would help us keep utility bills as low as possible,” Beshear said. “Given our utilities are provided a monopoly for their area, they must provide good service at affordable rates, all while keeping their management costs to the bare minimum.”
Beshear said his office filed testimony on affordability in the recent Kentucky Power/AEP rate case when his office sought to hold the company’s increase at zero. The PSC issued a series of rulings in January resulting in an average 4 percent decrease in monthly electric bills for Eastern Kentucky families who take service from the utility.
Reps. Harris and Hatton continue to fight for affordable utility bills for their communities, which is why they are proposing greater safeguards for all citizens in PSC hearings.
“With this legislation we’re changing the rules to help consumers and reign in the utilities,” Rep. Harris said. “Protecting the public, not profits for the utilities, must be our primary focus going forward.”
“The current rates are creating hardship for most folks in Eastern Kentucky, yet the rates are allowable by the current guidelines and must be approved by the Public Service Commission,” Rep. Hatton said. “Therefore, we must change the guidelines. This legislation will allow the PSC to reject rates that customers can’t pay and requires audits of utility companies’ expenses. I’m counting on my fellow legislators to have some compassion and support this bill. Our people need this if they are to survive.”
“Utilities serve a vital role in people’s lives, they are a driving force of Kentucky’s economic engine, fueling our businesses, schools and homes,” said Roger McCann, executive director of Community Action Kentucky. “Their importance is what makes it vital that we consider our citizens’ ability to pay their bills and keep the power on. Our vulnerable populations of people with fixed or low incomes, seniors, children and those with medical needs have a particularly tough time trying to keep up with increasing costs. They deserve to have their concerns heard and considered, and I support this effort to make it happen.”
Beshear worked with the two lawmakers, along with many community and public officials in Eastern Kentucky, to hold down any rate increase in the recent Kentucky Power/AEP case.
Beshear’s Office of Rate Intervention serves as a watchdog for consumers in matters relating to health insurance, natural gas, water, sewer, electric and telephone rates. Under Kentucky law, the office is responsible for representing the interests of Kentucky consumers before governmental ratemaking agencies, concentrating on utility cases before the PSC.
On Jan. 11, Beshear and a bipartisan coalition of 18 state attorneys general, state agencies and consumer advocates called on the federal government to ensure Kentuckians, not public utilities, receive the benefits of the recently reduced federal corporate tax rate.
On Jan. 8, Beshear’s office recommended that the PSC reduce the current rates Duke Energy charges Kentucky customers by $16 million.
In 2017, Beshear announced that his Office of Rate Intervention entered into a settlement with LG&E and KU that will save Kentucky ratepayers $90 million annually – $33.2 million of that is for residential customers.
Overall in 2016 and 2017, Beshear’s office helped save families over $291 million in increases to their utility bills.