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Eastern KY Residents May Face Higher Utility Bills

Every year, the Kentucky Public Service Commission receives hundreds of applications from utility companies to increase rates and change services. (Adobe Stock)
Every year, the Kentucky Public Service Commission receives hundreds of applications from utility companies to increase rates and change services. (Adobe Stock)
November 12, 2020

WHITESBURG, Ky. -- Eastern Kentuckians soon may see their monthly utility bills go up by more than twenty dollars, if a proposed rate increase by Kentucky Power is approved by the state Public Service Commission.

Critics say the move would hurt already struggling residents and put energy-efficient options such as rooftop solar out of reach for communities.

This would be the third rate increase the company has proposed in five years.

Amber Bailey, a Letcher County resident who works as a server, said when COVID-19 began spreading in March, she pocketed $350 a week.

Since the pandemic, business has dried up and her income has been cut in half and she struggles to pay her bills.

"Why is the utility company asking for more money when we're not able to do basic bill pay right now?" Bailey inquired. "A lot of it has to do with COVID. I mean, we were already so hard hit by the closing of all the mines, and now it's gotten even worse."

Kentucky Power said it needs the rate hike to help pay for a $36 million dollar investment in smart meters.

The proposal does include bill forgiveness on accounts that were more than 30 days late as of May 28.

Anyone can comment on the issue at one of the virtual public hearings the Public Service Commission is hosting on Friday Nov. 13 and Monday Nov. 16, or they can email the commission at psc.info@ky.gov.

Along with a 25% rate increase, the new proposal calls for gutting net-metering, the one-for-one kilowatt credit on electric bills for solar customers.

Chris Woolery, residential energy coordinator for the Mountain Association, said the move would discourage businesses and local governments in the region from investing in rooftop solar, and make it harder for residential customers to reduce their energy bills.

"Rooftop solar is one of the few things that eastern Kentuckians have left accessible to respond to these increasing bills and consistent rate changes," Woolery contended.

Woolery believes the utility's proposal is unfair to the more than 165,000 eastern Kentucky residents who rely on Kentucky Power, especially as households try to stay afloat amid the economic depression from the pandemic.

"This is not the time to put the burden that should be on the investors of utilities, on the backs of eastern Kentuckians," Woolery asserted.

Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron's office recently submitted a testimony on the issue. In a written statement, a spokesperson for the Attorney General said the Attorney General's Office of Rate Intervention continues to represent Kentuckians in matters related to utility rates, and said the testimony strongly opposes Kentucky Power's proposed rate increases and argues that Kentucky's non-solar utility rate payers should not have to subsidize the operational utility costs of solar participants.

Critics disagree with the Attorney General's position that non-solar customers subsidize solar customers, and argue the Attorney General's opposition to the rate hike isn't strong enough.

Nadia Ramlagan, Public News Service - KY