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More Kentuckians Behind on Utility Bills as Rates Soar


Wednesday, November 16, 2022   

One out of six American families is behind on their utility bills, according to the National Energy Assistance Directors Association.

Part of the reason for higher utility costs is additional fuel surcharges, based on the energy customers use in kilowatt-hours.

Joshua Bills, commercial energy specialist for the Mountain Association, said charges fluctuate in response to the price of fuel, noting utility companies use the surcharge to pass the buck onto ratepayers.

"They just pass those costs directly to customers, as they receive them," Bills explained. "It sort of reduces the risk to the utility of the volatility, and places all of that volatility on customers."

He pointed out switching to energy-efficient light bulbs, upgrading heating and cooling systems, and running home appliances during "off-peak" hours each month are all ways to decrease consumption and reduce the monthly surcharge.

The U.S. Energy Information Administration predicts electricity prices will continue to rise, with global instability and the continued increase in demand for power, through the winter.

Cara Cooper, coordinator for the group Kentuckians for Energy Democracy, said public comment periods are some of the best tools people have to help direct how energy rates are determined, and what kinds of energy sources companies should prioritize.

"Every day, the Public Service Commission in Kentucky is making really important decisions related to regulating our electric utilities," Cooper noted.

Research shows states with solar and wind infrastructure in place saw lower rate increases between June 2021 and July 2022, compared to states without renewable-power options. Bills stressed counties in the Commonwealth are beginning to take steps toward clean energy, but progress has been slow.

"Kentucky has a long ways to go compared to other states," Bills acknowledged. "We do have quite an influx of proposals for merchant solar. But there's very little groundbreaking happening yet with all those proposals."

Merchant solar is solar power financed by investors and sold to utility companies. Bills noted the Inflation Reduction Act has incentives for boosting energy efficiency and clean energy.

Next year, Kentucky small businesses and households may be eligible for federal assistance to help reduce their power usage.

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