Lawmakers reversed course this week on legislation that would have required elections for members of the Public Service Commission, opting instead to study the issue.
The House Tourism Development and Energy Committee approved a revised bill less than a week after a coalition of business leaders called on lawmakers to pull the plug on the measure that would end the current process under which PSC members are appointed by the governor and approved by the Senate.
“I’m glad today that we kept the conversation alive,” said state Rep. Keith Hall, D-Phelps, an eastern Kentucky community where electric rates have increased by some 31 percent since 2006.
Hall said the revised bill calls for the study to be completed by Dec. 15, in time for lawmakers to reconsider the proposal in next year’s legislative session.
“By keeping the conversation alive and doing the study, I’m going to resurrect it on another day,” he said.
Kentucky Chamber of Commerce President Dave Adkisson said electing PSC members would politicize the process of setting utility rates.
However, Pike County Community Services Director Carol Napier argued Monday that electing members would make the PSC more consumer-friendly.
The legislation, which passed the Senate earlier this month, would have expanded the PSC from three members to seven and would require their election by popular vote to staggered fouryear terms. The members would be chosen from each of Kentucky’s six congressional districts. The seventh member would represent the state at large.
Sen. Ray Jones, D-Pikeville, had proposed electing PSC members after eastern Kentucky residents were hit last year with a 17 percent electric rate increase. He said that increase was followed by one of the coldest winters in modern history, generating exorbitant monthly utility bills, especially for the elderly and others on fixed incomes.
“People are having to make tough choices — pay electric bills or buy food,” Napier said.
The Public Service Commission has taken no position on the legislation. However, spokesman Andrew Melnykovych said previously that every state with an elected commission has higher electric rates than Kentucky.
Tom FitzGerald, head of an organization that represents lowincome consumers in utility rate cases, sided with Kentucky’s business representatives last week in calling for the defeat of the legislation.
FitzGerald, who has been the face of the Kentucky Resources Council for more than 25 years, said no evidence exists to suggest electing members to the PSC would lead to lower rates. He said this week that he supports the revised legislation that directs a study of the proposal.