RCA to hold Juneau power rate hearing

Posted: Thursday, June 10, 2010

The Regulatory Commission of Alaska will hold a public hearing in Juneau next week on Alaska Electric Light & Power's proposed 22 percent rate increase.

The hearing was requested by the Juneau Assembly and the three members of the city's legislative delegation.

"I really hope that people will go in droves," said Cheryl Moralez, with the Juneau People's Power Project, formed two years ago to protest power rate increases after the city was cut off from its hydro power supply by an avalanche. The group has continued in its role as watchdog over the privately owned utility.

More than 100 Juneau residents have also filed public comments on the rate increase, and many of those also requested a public hearing.

An RCA spokesperson said the hearing, which is called a "consumer input" hearing, is an optional part of the rate-making process, but is done in cases of particularly high public interest.

For the hearing, two RCA commissioners will take testimony, and members of the commission's consumer protection and finance staffs will be in Juneau to talk with AEL&P customers.

Commissioners will be limited in what they can say during the hearing because it is part of a formal adjudicatory process, commission spokesperson Grace Salazar said.

There will be a sign-up list for those wishing to testify, with the hope that speakers would not go more than five minutes each, she said. If turnout is higher than expected, it is possible the time limit would be reduced to three minutes, she said.

AEL&P has asked for a permanent rate increase of 22.1 percent, and also a temporary and refundable rate increase of 18.5 percent to take effect before that. The RCA is expected to decide on the temporary increase by June 17, but has 15 months to review and decide on the permanent increase.

The company doesn't yet know what its role at the hearing will be, said Scott Willis, AEL&P spokesman and power generation engineer.

"Of course we'll be there," he said.

AEL&P didn't object to the public hearing, and Willis said Wednesday that it might be a healthy thing for the community.

"I know there is a lot of strong feelings about this rate case," he said. "That may be a good thing for the community to speak up and let its voice be heard."

AEL&P just learned of the hearing and hasn't yet decided whether it will make its own presentation, Willis said, though it has been offered the opportunity by the RCA.

While some of the comments filed with the RCA already challenge whether AEL&P is allowed such an increase under state law, many of the commenters simply said they couldn't afford what the utility is proposing.

Juneau People's Power Project said they'll be meeting at the Downtown Juneau Library at 2 p.m. Saturday to coordinate testimony, and work to make sure their comments are focused on what RCA commissioners need to hear. Group member Bill Burk said anyone interested in learning how to best present testimony is welcome to attend.

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

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