Valerie versus the corporation

| 29 Sep 2011 | 08:25

    MATAMORAS - Valerie McCutchen says she’s a foot soldier in the Pike County power rate war. She’s looking at a May hearing in Harrisburg, opposed by a Manhattan corporate counsel for Consolidated Edison. She doesn’t have lawyer. “I’m just an ol’ gal from Matamoras,” she said, not quite exuding confidence. But McCutchen isn’t quite the woodchuck she pretends to be. A former corporate bookkeeper, turned full-time mom to her three kids, McCutchen wants to find out if Pike County Light and Power is as stubborn as she is. She’s hoping to be near the head of a long line of plain folks marching into hearings with the state Public Utilities Commission. It may “spitting into a tidal wave,” but McCutchen says the power company’s legal department may get tired of making weekly trips to commission hearings before residents do. After her power bill went up $200 in February McCutchon was angry. She had already reduced her natural gas fired home heat to the low sixties. “We’ve been running around the house with coats on all winter.” She filed an informal complaint with the commission. About ten days later, a commission staffer, “a real smoothie with a poly-sci-degree,” called saying the commission is advising people to file formally. McCutchen had thought that the bigger hitters in the county would be doing the formal complaints, but she figured, “what the heck,” and downloaded the complaint form. Not too long after returning the completed form, Con Edison’s corporate counsel replied in disparaging terms, that her complaint didn’t stand a snowball’s chance of being heard, because the commission was not going to overturn an already approved rate. Having been advised by such expensive legal talent, McCutchen was admittedly surprised when a few days later, the commission advised her of a May 25 hearing date. While she felt vindicated for all the effort, McCutchen has since been wondering what happens next. “I’ve come through the channels and here I am,” she said. Harrisburg is looming and she still has no attorney. Jennifer Kocher, a spokeswoman for the commission said private individuals do not need to be represented by counsel at commission hearings, but corporations do need lawyers. Kocher was unable to say how many other formal hearings may have been approved for Pike County complainants. “Often, when there is a large number of complainants, the commission will do a joint hearing on the issue.” Back in Matamoras, McCutchen says she would still like some moral support, “anyone with suggestions, or who wants to help or go with me. We’ve got to fix this or it’s only going to get worse next year when all of our property taxes go up because of it,” she said. Any ready to assist, can contact McCutchen by e-mail at .