(UNEDITED) Several months ago, Rocky Mountain Power filed a proposal with the Utah Public Service Commission to raise rates by over $232 million in Utah, representing a 13.7% increase, the largest ever in Utah history. Many people hearing this story may have thought it was "business as usual," and that nothing could be done to stop rate increases, regardless of public reaction. Yet this is absolutely untrue; the public's voice can make a big difference.
AARP Utah intervened in this case, as it has with the last several rate increase proposals. We were fortunate to have an expert witness and attorney who could analyze the complex data, make data requests, submit testimony, and make recommendations about how ratepayers could best be protected from excessive increases. Would it be to argue for a fixed customer charge? Divide residential users into different rate classes based on usage? Make the case for seasonal charges? Without a background in this area, knowing which arguments are most effective is daunting.
Experts are important, but AARP also knows the power that people who are affected by a rate increase--the actual customers--can make in these situations as well. We held a tele-town hall meeting, calling thousands of our members to participate in a live conversation about the Rocky Mountain Power proposal. Michele Beck, Director of the Utah Office of Consumer Services and one of AARP's utilities experts outlined the case and responded to questions. Over 10,000 Utahns joined the call to hear what they could do to have their voice heard directly with the Public Service Commission.
We also drove consumer calls, letters, and e-mails to the Public Service Commission about the proposal so people could question why rates would go up by such a large amount when they already have trouble paying basic expenses. Their opinion and their concerns matter. This is true not only with utility rate increases, but with any public issue that is under consideration from lawmakers, be it zoning or pension concerns.
Public opinion counts. In the Rocky Mountain case, a settlement was reached that reduced the rate increase from 13.7% to 4.7%. Instead of a $232 million increase, the settlement calls for a $117 million increase, with the average monthly bill to go up $3.50 instead of $10 per month or higher as originally proposed. Rates are set to increase on September 21.
No one likes rate increases, but it is clear that the concerns raised by AARP Utah, the Office of Consumer Services, and other members of the public did make a difference in deciding if the rate increase was fair. Millions of dollars were saved in this case alone, and the involvement of AARP in cases around the country has saved billions of dollars in this year alone.
Yet we know Rocky Mountain Power will be asking for an additional rate increase next year and in the years to come. We will stay vigilant, but the public must also be involved in the process to make sure consumers get a fair deal, not only in utilities issues but in the legislature as well.