Who's got the power?

| 29 Sep 2011 | 08:00

    MILFORD - Harry Forbes is suspicious about the process that will hike power costs 73 percent for some 4,500 Pike County customers when Pennsylvania Light and Power Company bills come out in February. “I’m not looking forward to our first meeting after the bills arrive,” the chairman of the Pike County Commissioners said. After having its rates capped by Pennsylvania for six years, the power company conducted a state approved auction in October to set a new rate based on the prevailing market prices. The auction took place just after hurricanes and political instability had driven prices sky high and the Pennsylvania Light and Power Company’s parent company Orange and Rockland Utilities won the bid. Orange and Rockland is supplied from the New York State, where Forbes says the rates are traditionally higher than Pennsylvania’s. Pennsylvania Light and Power reports that it has looked into joining the Pennsylvania grid, by linking to one of two other utilities operating in Pike, but found it was not “cost effective.” That was bad enough, but Forbes said the New York connection also deprives Pike County in other ways. While Pennsylvania provides incentive grants for energy saving programs and alternative energy sources, because Pike is a customer of the New York power grid, it is not eligible, Forbes said. Under utility de-regulation, many new power suppliers have entered a new competitive market where consumers should be able to choose a supplier. “But none of them want to come to Pike County,” Forbes said. “Does that not tell you that there are other problems?” he asked. Pennsylvania Light and Power confirmed that in fact it supplies all of its customers. “No Pike customer is provided...by third party suppliers,” according to a company handout. The company said it has subsidized Pike’s power usage to the tune of $2.8 million since its rates were capped. Pennsylvania Light and Power does not generate power and claims it is only the bearer of bad news. It owns the transmission lines that carry power, but the company said its transmission rates are unchanged since 1993 and will make no profit from the higher power costs. Forbes might also be suspicious because Pennsylvania Light and Power has a history of buying expensive power. They lost a landmark state court ruling in 1983, which is today known nationally as the “Pike County Doctrine.” The decision provided a precedent for state regulators to intercede when utilities pass on costs for power bought at exorbitant prices. The utility gave governments and schools no warning of the increase. “They knew about this last summer and didn’t say anything. My budget was set in December. This is going to cost the county $100,000,” Forbes said. Delaware Valley School District Business Manager Bill Hessling said the increase will cost the district $200,000. “It’s going to be an extreme burden,” he said. The bidding record from the October auction is unavailable to the public. “We’re not allowed to know who bid,” Forbes said adding, “It sure doesn’t feel good to me.” The county commissioners want state regulators involved again and have asked the Public Utilities Commission to hold hearings in Milford. “Why couldn’t they start with 10 percent or 15 percent? They’re going to put people out of their homes.” Forbes said. “This whole thing has been orchestrated and it stinks,” Forbes concluded.