Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Doug Thompson's The Morning News report on the Public Service Commission's barely publicized public hearing in Fayetteville on October 13, 2009

The Morning News
Local News for Northwest Arkansas
Electric Rate Increase Stokes Coal Concerns

By Doug Thompson
FAYETTEVILLE — A proposed electric rate increase for Swepco customers received statements of support from customers as far away as Mena at a public comment hearing on Tuesday.
DSCN6797doug Thompson & AEP swepco lawyer
Seven of the 12 comments made, however, were pleas for exploring alternative energy and opposition to the utility's plans for a new coal-fueled plant in Hope. That proposed new powerplant is not part of this increase request, attorneys for the PSC, the state attorney general's office and the Southwestern Electric Power Company said.

Tuesday hearing by the state Public Service Commission, which sets electric rates, concerned a proposed rate hike that would raise the average home's electric bill by 5.17 percent. The company requested the increase because operating costs have increased said utility attorney David Matthews of Lowell.

"Our belt tightening is down to its last notches," he told the commissioners at the hearing.

This would be the first increase in Swepco's base rate since 1985, although other fees and charges required by the federal and state governments have gone on consumers bills during that time. The three-member commission will hold a hearing on the request on Nov. 2 at its headquarters in Little Rock and is expected to reach a decision by December, according to commission staff.

"I can certainly say I don't want a rate increase at this time, but Swepco's been a great corporate citizen to Mena," said James Turner, a resident of that city. Mena and many of the rest of Swepco's 114,000 customers suffered from an ice storm early this year. Mena was also hit by tornadoes in the spring. Swepco did an excellent job of restoring service to that town and deserves credit for holding down rates for years, residents of that town said. About 30 people attended the 6 p.m. hearing.

Fayetteville business owner Moshe Newman was among the seven residents attending the meeting who said they want to see the utility explore more options for energy and oppose the further use of coal. Paul Suskie of North Little Rock, commission chairman, said the agency had asked each utility company at an earlier meeting what they were doing to adopt renewable energy and that the records of that are available from the commission.

The proposed increase totals about $17.8 million. If approved, the average Swepco home electric bill with an estimated usage of 1,000 kilowatt hours per month would see an increase of $3.84 per month from a current average base electric charge of $74.27 per month, according to PSC figures.

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