State Rep. Leslie Combs has called on Kentucky Power Company and other to prove that its customers have been being billed “fairly, properly and correctly” since a 17 percent rate increase went into effect last year.
Combs, who chairs the House Tourism Development and Energy Committee, summoned representatives from local government and utility companies for an informational meeting in Frankfort on Feb. 3 in an effort to understand large increases in power bills which are bringing numerous complaints from customers.
Combs said many customers don’t believe they are using as much electricity as their monthly bills indicate.
“The power companies need to explain what is going on,” said Combs, who represents most of Letcher County. “ People do not believe they are using that much. ‘Right now, they do not believe you’ is what we told the power company.”
Letcher County Magistrate
Wayne Fleming was among a group of local offi- cials who traveled to Frankfort for the hearing. Fleming testified in front of legislative and power company representatives and told them many Letcher County residents have been hit hard by the high power bills.
“The purpose was for us to kindly vent our frustrations and anger at the Public Service Commission and the power company,” said Fleming. “Leslie gave us a platform to do that.”
Consumers have lodged complaints about their soaring electric bills and have told legislators they are getting little help or compassion from their utility company.
“I told them I didn’t feel like they show any concern for the people here,” said Fleming. “ They can’t say they don’t know the people’s predicaments here as far as people suffering. They can’t deny that.”
Fleming said he cited specific examples of how people are trying to make ends meet. He said in some cases, the power bill totals half of what a person earns in a month.
“People will take their medicine one day and will not take it the next to make it spread out longer,” said Fleming. “ It breaks my heart.”
Combs said one magistrate spoke of a constituent whose electric bill went from $ 400 in December, 2010 to $ 792 in January 2011 and the customer only occupied her house for a period of nine days during this billing cycle.
“It is stories like these that have made this meeting so important,” said Rep. Combs. “We understand that the cold and snowy weather is playing a tremendous role in higher heating bills as is the agreed upon settlement that allowed for an increase in rates. But there are cases where these exorbitant bills cannot be explained.”
Rep. Fitz Steele, (D-Harlan), said the LKLP community action agency in Letcher County has already helped 3,135 consumers with heating bills totaling $885,000. “We’re already on our third round of LIHEAP funds and I worry that’s the extent of their support,” said Steele. “I just don’t know what our folks are supposed to do.”
Combs said the Public Service Commission was sympathetic to the problems and said it encouraged the utilities to work with consumers to keep their power on. A representative from Kentucky Power Company, a subsidiary of American Electric Power (AEP), said that there are several programs that it steers customers to in an effort to work out a solution.
Rep. Combs ended the meeting by stressing the need for further communication and cooperation.
“I believe that the more communication we can have between all parties the better we can fully understand the issues,” said Combs. “Many times it’s miscommunication that translates into not helping the people who really need assistance. Hopefully this meeting will clear up some of those issues and we can move forward.”