2017-07-26 / Front Page

Citizens may take power company rate-hike protest to state’s capital

Letcher County residents may expand their protest against a proposed Kentucky Power Company rate increase to Frankfort.

Residents marched in Whitesburg on Monday, and were organizing mass mailings of complaints to the state Public Service Commission (PSC). Forty-six residents met last week in the Letcher County Courthouse to discuss strategy and swap stories of how they deal with power bills that are already too high for many people.

Residents gathered on the courthouse steps on Monday, and marched with a Sheriff ’s Department escort down Main Street, East Main and Madison Street to the power company’s local operation facility, which was closed at the time of the march.

Outside, protestors waved signs opposing the rate increases and chanted, “We’ve had enough.”

The meeting held July 20 was organized by former UMWA local president Steve Brewer to mobilize residents in their efforts to stop a proposed 16-percent increase in residential power rates and increases to some business rates. Those opposing the rate change had until today (July 26) to send letters or e-mail messages to the PSC’s office in Frankfort.

Martha Watts, who retired last year after 23 years as the Family Resource Center director at Letcher Elementary, said part of her job was to find assistance for parents who couldn’t pay their power bills.

“Their power bills were getting so high they had to make a decision between food and power, or other things they really needed, like medicine,” Watts said.

She said churches would sometimes help when a family’s power bill was $200 or $300, but the bills now can be three times that much. That makes it harder, Watts said, even though the churches insist that the resident pay part of the bill.

“There’s times that people would have to run extension cords to their neighbors’ just to stay warm or cook a meal,” she said.

Dallas Craft said her renter to had to choose whether to pay rent or power.

She chose rent, because she could still have some shelter for her child.

Craft said it was heartbreaking when her grandson asked another boy at school what he got for Christmas, “and he said, ‘I got my power turned back on.’”

State Rep. Angie Hatton said she has talked to Kentucky Power officials several times about the proposed rate hike and learned there are some good parts of the proposal, such as a 25-cent charge that will designated for economic development.

“That is good, because it might bring some jobs in,” she said.

Hatton said Attorney General Andy Beshear told her last week that his office had gotten at least 200 complaints about Kentucky Power’s application for the rate increase in a two-week period. Hatton said she will do whatever she can to help local residents, but she said, the company has a right to make money.

“We have to remember Kentucky Power is a small part of AEP (American Electric Power) and it’s the part that’s not making money, but when children are suffering you have to do something,” she said.

When one man asked if the company has to be audited before it can raise rates, Hatton wasn’t sure.

“I don’t think anybody anticipated such a quick and sharp drop in coal,” she said.

Robert Ingram of Payne Gap said the company was supposedly moving away from coal.

“When I was losing my job in the coal mines, they said it was because natural gas was cheaper. Throw that back at them,” he said.

Hatton left the meeting early, saying she had another appointment to attend.

Brenda Braddock said she worked for Dominion Power in Virginia for 18 years, and learned that power companies don’t like publicity and don’t like to hear from their customers. She suggested residents copy their letters 25 times and send them all to the PSC. She also suggested that citizens make their protests known in the media, and not to fall for the excuse that Kentucky Power loses money, because AEP is its parent company and does make money.

“They say this is the part that’s not making money? That’s bull,” Braddock said. “They don’t have to pay it all out (to shareholders). When you own stock in a company you take a risk.”

Letcher Circuit Clerk Larry Adams said he knew firsthand how hard it is for elderly people to pay their power bills, because of his late mother’s experience. As she got older and sicker, Adams said he and his wife took on her chores at their house next door.

“She quit cooking, quit doing laundry because we took it to our house, (and) the power bill just kept going up,” he said.

Letcher County Judge/ Executive Jim Ward said residents need to be sure to protest more than just the rate increase, pointing out that “riders” and fees are what really increase the power bills.

“The last time they asked for an increase, they didn’t let them have all their increase, but they let them have all these riders,” Ward said. “We’ve got to watch that, too.”

He said the Letcher County Courthouse’s power bill is about $10,000 a month during the hot part of summer, and increasing the rates and riders will mean more money taken from the taxpayers.

District Three Magistrate Woody Holbrook noted that the company said it shut down a portion of the Big Sandy Power Plant because it couldn’t afford scrubbers, but then paid millions for a half-interest in another coal-fired plant in West Virginia that AEP already owned.

Kentucky Power says the new rates are necessary because of a decrease of about 2,000 residential and about 450 industrial and commercial customers because of a struggling economy in the 21 eastern Kentucky counties the company serves. The company says it has experienced a 14.2 percent drop in kilowatt usage because of the loss.

The company says that residential customers using an average 1,247 kilowatthours per month would see an estimated increase of $24 per month or about 80 cents a day.

— By SAM ADAMS

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