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Consumers Send Message in Tamping Down Utility Rate Hike

Consumer challenges deliver a sharp reduction in rate increases sought by sister power companies in Kentucky. (Greg Stotelmyer)
Consumer challenges deliver a sharp reduction in rate increases sought by sister power companies in Kentucky. (Greg Stotelmyer)
April 24, 2017

FRANKFORT, Ky. – The battle to tamp down utility rate hikes in Kentucky produced a victory last week for intervenors, who challenged the sizes and types of increases sought by sister power companies Kentucky Utilities and Louisville Gas and Electric.

Combined, the utilities serve more than 1 million electric and natural- gas customers across the state.

The challengers ranged from big corporations to people on fixed-incomes – and they forged a settlement with the utilities that, if approved by the state Public Service Commission, would trim the increase from $210 million to $120 million.

Cathy Hinko, executive director of the Metropolitan Housing Coalition, says vigilance paid off.

"It's the cost of business,” she states. “They were going to get a raise, but people were united, and all the intervenors were united."

The PSC will review the settlement at a hearing on May 9. Consumer advocates say the biggest victory was stopping KU and LG and E's attempt to double customers' basic service charge, known as the monthly meter fee.

Intervenors say raising rates on a fixed charge instead of on usage would have hurt those most who could afford it the least.

Jim Thurman agrees. At 71, he lives on a tight budget in the Lexington home he's owned for 40 years and says he does every thing he can to conserve energy.

"I would have incurred that rate even though I was using less of the product,” he points out. “The other thing is, those that are on fixed incomes and those that are marginalized income-wise, anyway, it would put an undue burden on them."

Thurman is emblematic of the groundswell of resistance the rate case created. He says in the past, he always relied on the PSC to be the consumers' guardian, but this time, he decided to challenge the utilities himself.

"And it just hit me the wrong way this time,” he relates. “I mean, they were guaranteeing their stockholders an increase in their dividends, almost to the point of the increase."

Under the settlement, the utilities commit almost $1.5 million annually from shareholders for the next four years to support bill payment programs that assist lower-income customers.

Greg Stotelmyer , Public News Service - KY