AEL&P's rate increase draws comments, criticism

Posted: Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Juneau residents are weighing in on Alaska Electric Light & Power's proposed 22 percent rate increase and almost entirely against it.

At the same time, many are also requesting the Regulatory Commission of Alaska hold a public hearing on the rate increase in Juneau before they make a final decision.

Public comment on the increase, which included an interim 18.5 percent increase before the permanent rate takes effect, is ongoing on the RCA website. The comment period closes June 4.

The comments have included some sometimes harsh criticism of the utility, but have also frequently sought a public hearing in Juneau.

In a few cases, comments voiced support for the increase.

Many of those commenting so far have said the public hearing would enable them to become better informed about the reasons and need for the increase.

"The RCA needs to have a public hearing right here in Juneau BEFORE the rate hike appears on our bills," wrote Jodi Plante, one of numerous commenters asking questions and seeking a local hearing.

The Juneau Assembly has also backed a local hearing, voting 7-2 last week to join the Juneau legislative delegation in sending a letter to the RCA seeking a hearing.

Mayor Bruce Botelho questioned what role the city could play in the regulatory process, but eventually voted for the measure. Two assembly members, Johan Dybdahl and Merrill Sanford, voted against.

Dybdahl's vote came from "not knowing what the letter would say or what it would accomplish," he said.

Assembly member Dave Stone noted that there was already an extensive public comment process available through the RCA's website.

Stone, a part owner of AEL&P, asked city attorney John Hartle if he might have a conflict of interest. He abstained when it was recommended he do so.

The RCA's public comments process has already received 84 comments from the public on the AEL&P increase.

"Please hold a public hearing on this issue before allowing a monopoly to unfairly gouge those who cannot sustain paying such high rates for the financial benefit of the owners of (AEL&P)," wrote Jennifer LaRoe.

Tim McLeod, president of AEL&P, said the company was not opposed to a public hearing.

A public hearing in Anchorage will likely focus on technical issues involving the rate increase, but RCA spokesperson Grace Salazar said the commission has yet to make a decision about a Juneau hearing.

Many commenters don't dispute AEL&P's justification of the increase, but instead say they can't afford such a steep rate hike.

Kiara Alexander said the working class was being squeezed out of Juneau.

"My family and I simply cannot afford this rate hike!," she wrote, and said that since AEL&P had a monopoly on power she'd be in investing in candles as much as she could.

At least a few of the comments, outside of those from AEL&P explaining the request, supported the utility.

Linda Mills said AEL&P's rates were low, there were few outages and the utility has worked hard to keep the ones they did have as brief as possible.

"If they need to raise their rates, I am more than happy to pay my share," she wrote.

• Contact reporter Pat Forgey at 523-2250 or patrick.forgey@juneauempire.com.



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