*Originally published in the Appalachian News-Express*
By Buddy Forbes
In the ongoing saga of backlash toward Kentucky Power’s proposed rate hike, 93rd Dist. state Rep. Chris Harris has pre-filed legislation in an effort to bring a stop to the rising rates that have many Eastern Kentuckians up in arms.
According to a statement sent out last week, Harris has pre-filed two pieces of legislation, Bill Resolution 114 and 115, which are direct copies of the legislation (HB 455 and HR109) filed by Harris in February.
Bill Resolution (BR) 114 requests that the Public Service Commission (PSC) reconsider previously-issued orders, such as its approval of over $100 million in rate increases and over $68 million in riders not covered in base rates, to determine if those orders are still in the public interest of Kentucky ratepayers. BR 115 asks that the PSC re-examine electric rates charged to certain ratepayers to decide if those charges are “fair, just, and reasonable.”
“In light of Kentucky Power’s continued attempts to raise rates on the people of Eastern Kentucky, with yet another request to the PSC for a 16 percent rate hike, the time for legislative action is past due,” Harris said in the statement. “I filed similar legislation during the 2017 session, and will continue to press this issue until we find relief for our people. Why are we being asked to dig deeper and deeper into our pockets as Kentucky Power’s profits continue to soar?”
The statement from Harris also said American Electric Power (AEP), the parent company of Kentucky Power, has “doubled over the past five years, with dividends increasing for its stockholders each year.” Harris said he is researching legislation “that would thwart AEP’s most recent attempt to raise rates on Eastern Kentuckians.”
The former pieces of legislation, which were introduced into the Senate on February 16, never made it past the Department of Natural Resources and Energy.
“We’ve added some additional information into the new bill, just to reflect the fact that they’re asking for new raises over and above what they’ve already asked for,” Harris told the News-Express Friday. “When we filed in February, we were asking the PSC to go back and re-evaluate the fairness and reasonableness of the rates that were already given. Now, they’re asking for an additional 15 percent on top of that. It’s just mind-blowing, when you look at some of the executives’ pay, that they would ask people on fixed incomes to dig deeper and pay more so that their stockholders could continue to have increased dividends.”
This time around, with the new legislation to be addressed in January, Harris said he hopes the cries of Eastern Kentucky will be acknowledged and the legislation approved. Harris said this legislation would mean a lot for Kentucky Power customers.
“It would mean that the PSC would go back and re-evaluate the increases that have already been passed on and have already been given to AEP or Kentucky Power. It would mean they re-evaluate those rates and riders that we have on our current bills, to determine if those are fair, just and reasonable under the circumstances we are facing in Eastern Kentucky,” Harris said.
Harris said this has been going on too long.
“The people simply cannot afford to pay the types of bills with the rates and the riders that they are seeing,” he said. “It’s not a matter anymore of choosing between medicine, food and electricity. It’s just a matter of: they just can’t do it. Many people are on a fixed income and they draw a limited amount of money every month. Some of them are getting $400-$500 monthly power bills that they simply cannot pay.”
Harris said the rate increases being requested in a struggling Appalachian economy don’t make sense coming from a company like AEP with an ever-rising financial situation.
“The financial outlook for AEP continues to go up,” he said. “Their stock price has doubled in the last five years, their dividends have increased every year over the last five years, yet they continue to ask the people of Eastern Kentucky to pay more and more and more. It’s unconscionable; we can’t do it.”
When first introduced, the legislation was a bipartisan act, with co-sponsors from both sides of the aisle, but has been reintroduced with the support of co-sponsor 94th Dist. Rep. Angie Hatton. Rocky Adkins (D-Morehead), Kevin Sinnette (D-Ashland), and Rick Nelson (D-Middlesboro) were also co-sponsors for the pre-filled bills.
While the newest legislation was introduced with only Democratic sponsors, Harris said he is confident that this remains a unified battle.
“This legislation, and legislation like this, is a very bipartisan effort. I think, if you talk to any legislator in Eastern Kentucky, they will tell you that what I put in this legislation is exactly what we need to do,” said Harris. “We need to take a step back and ask ourselves: Is this sustainable? The people of Eastern Kentucky just can’t do it. I think legislators, Democrat and Republican, will agree on that issue. I hope to have, by the time the session starts in January, co-sponsors Democratic and Republican alike on the bill.”