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Faith Leader: Utility Fixed-Rate Proposals Single Out Poorest Ohioans

AEP and Duke Energy want to increase fixed monthly charges on customers' bills. (Suzie Tremmel/Flickr)
AEP and Duke Energy want to increase fixed monthly charges on customers' bills. (Suzie Tremmel/Flickr)
May 30, 2017

COLUMBUS, Ohio — People around Ohio are speaking out about proposed rate increases from local utility companies. Both American Electric Power and Duke Energy want to raise the fixed charge for customers - a charge that is paid even before the meter starts running.

Opponents argue that the increase has a disproportionate impact on lower-income residents. Pastor Grant Eckhart of Jacob's Porch Lutheran Campus Ministry in Columbus is among those speaking out against the proposals. He said that as a person of faith, he believes those on the margins of society should not be singled out.

"Since AEP has shown record profits and dividends, I believe they should show preference for those for whom an extra $10 a month or so is going to be a big hit financially,” Eckhart said. "It really significantly affects the poorest among us. That’s wrong."

AEP customers could see their monthly fixed charge go up nearly 120 percent to $18.40. Under a Duke Energy proposal, the increase would be 280 percent to $22.77 a month.

Supporters of the plans have said increases in fixed charges will be balanced by reductions in other charges.

Fixed charges cover expenses for distribution and equipment and typically are based on the volume of electricity. The utilities have argued that fixed charges would better reflect the cost associated with serving each customer.

But Eckhart said that takes away the customer incentive to reduce energy use and invest in energy efficiency. He contends that's where electric companies should be focused.

"Further infrastructure around renewable resources, solar resources, all those kinds of things, let's see the money go there,” he said. "That is a really important thing. As a person of faith, we are called to not only stand in preference for the poor but also to be stewards of creation."

According to Ohio Citizen Action, more than 16,000 people have sent public comments to the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio asking the proposed increases be rejected. Eckhart said he encourages customers of all utilities to get involved.

"It's important to get all the facts,” he said. "It's important to know what your provider is charging. It's important to know where the money is being spent that you pay, and also to know what the rates are and whether or not you can tolerate this rate hike."

PUCO public hearings on the AEP case were held this spring, and the formal proceedings begin June 6.

Mary Kuhlman, Public News Service - OH