Power rates could hit the fan at public hearing

| 29 Sep 2011 | 08:08

    MILFORD - State energy regulators could turn back newly increased electric rates following a hearing in Pike County later this month. Jennifer Kocher, press spokesperson for the Pennsylvania Public Utilities Commission does have the authority to roll back rates if their investigation finds that the new rates are based on costs “beyond what the market supports.” That authority comes from a 1983 state court ruling, in which Pike County Power and Light was also involved. The court’s decision against the utility has since become an internationally recognized precedent, known as the Pike County Doctrine. The ruling found that the company had purchased power at cost beyond the market price and ordered a rate rollback. Kocher said because of limited public notice, the full panel would not attend, but two of the commissioners, Vice Chairman James Cawley and Commissioner Bill Shane would be appearing. “But there will be a legal transcript taken and the hearing will be part of the commission’s investigation which began on January 27,” she said. The commission will not be taking immediate action, but has “an overall goal to look at the basis for the action and the competitve market,” Kocher said. The hearing will be at the Delaware Valley High School Auditorium on Feb. 27, scheduled to last from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m., with a snow date on the following day. Some had expressed early concern that a commission hearing might simply allow residents to vent, but Pike County Commissioner Richard Caridi said the hearing “will be more than just a dog and pony show to make us feel better.” Caridi said that state Commissioner Shane telephoned him and reassured him along those lines. “They’re extremely interested in this,” Caridi said. He said the commission’s goal is long term, to prevent this kind of thing from happening again in future. “I believe they would like to find another utility to purchase Pike Power and Light from Orange and Rockland, but they can’t order that,” Caridi said. Pike County Commissioner’s Chair Harry Forbes said earlier that Orange and Rockland’s ownership, as a New York based utility transmitting power from outside the Pennsylvania power network, causes Pike Power and Light costs and rates to be higher. The New York connection also made the county unattractive for other potential power suppliers, since Pike is not on the state power grid and is ineligible for Pennsylvania state alternative energy incentive programs, Forbes said. Calling it “not cost effective,” Orange and Rockland has declined to build new transmission lines that could connect its system to the Pennsyvlania power network. “That doesn’t make sense in the state’s fastest growing county, especially since all the commercial activity is in the corridor between Milford and Matamoras,” Caridi said. Forbes this week said the utility’s announced 73-percent rate increase has been understated, based on new bills he’s seen. Forbes has solicited figures of similar usage from February residential and commercial billings. Forbes said Orange and Rockland has made responses, developing a budget payment plan and urging low-income customers to apply for federal energy grant programs to help pay their bills. “Is this what we want?” Forbes asked. “No, but at least they’ve started to take notice.” Forbes, who is also a Pike Power and Light residential customer, says he’s been cutting his electric use like most people in the area. “I’ve had my wife running around the house turning off lights...This (rate increase) is absurd...people are fed up,” he said.