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Officials still fielding power bill complaints

Local and state officials continue to receive complaints from Letcher County residents frustrated by high power bills. Meanwhile, representatives with Kentucky Power Co. and the Kentucky Public Service Commission say electric bills are higher because electricity usage increases when temperatures are bitter cold.

A spokesperson with the National Weather Service in Jackson said it’s hard to argue with power company and PSC claims that more kilowatt hours are used on days with colder temperatures.

“Being that much colder, you are going to use more heat than you are used to,” said Jeffrey Carico. “If you keep it set at 72 degrees, your heaters will run all the time to keep it that temperature, especially if you have bad insulation.”

Carico said the average temperature in Whitesburg during December 2010 was 25.8 degrees. He said it reached 63 degrees on Dec. 1 and 54 degrees on Dec. 31 with much colder temperatures during the days in between. He said the temperature was below 10 degrees numerous times this December, reaching 7 degrees three times and 8 degrees two times. A weather observer recorded 1 degree on Dec. 9 and 2 degrees on Dec. 2.

Carico said there were at least 10 days in December 2009 when temperatures had highs in the 50s. Three days were recorded with temperatures in the 60s.

He said Whitesburg received 32 inches of snowfall in December and 18 inches of snow so far this January. At least four to six inches of wet snow is predicted for Wednesday, with the possibility of power outages.

Carico said February is also predicted to be favorable for below normal temperatures.

Letcher County Judge/Executive Jim Ward said he has spoken with the deputy director of the Kentucky Public Service Commission, who said the weather was colder this December than last, causing an increase in the usage of electricity.

“I really haven’t gotten any explanation other than it was a cold December and more usage in electricity,” said Ward.

Ward said the rate increase has made a difference in power bills. He also said people have continued to call his office during the last couple of weeks to complain about spikes in their power bills. Ward said most citizens want the power company to check their meters and see if there is anything is wrong in their houses that may make for higher power bills.

Ward and the rest of the Letcher County Fiscal Court voted at its January meeting to send a letter to 94th District State Rep. Leslie Combs, 92nd District Rep. John Short, and 29th District State Senator Johnny Ray Turner asking that legislative action be taken to address the rate increases.

District Five Magistrate Wayne Fleming also asked that language be included in the request to address the growing class divide on the Kentucky Public Service Commission and other governing bodies which are supposed to represent all the people of the state, but often have no representation from the working class or poor.

Combs said Tuesday that she hadn’t yet received the county’s letter but plans on meeting the fiscal court’s request.

“I will work with the fiscal court to draft that legislation accordingly,” said Combs. “I understand what the fiscal court has been dealing with. I and other legislators will work with the fiscal court in any way to help the citizens.”

Combs said she and other legislators are continuing to get phone calls from people expressing concern over their high power bills.

“We’re trying to address the issue and other legislators are concerned as well,” she said.

Combs said that statistically December is consistently a cold month.

“Those heat pumps never turn off. They are used consistently,” she said.

Combs is telling people to look at their power bills to see if they used more kilowatt hours this month compared to last month.

“They are saying usage,” said Combs. “We have to justify it. You’ve got to make it make sense to people. There are people who just don’t think they have used that much.”

She said she is also hearing complaints about high power bills from customers who aren’t served by Kentucky Power. She said she has asked power companies in her district to communicate with their customers to explain the reason for the higher bills and to give customers payment plans.

Ronn Robinson, cooperate communications manager with Kentucky Power Co., said the power company doesn’t want to disconnect anyone’s power.

“Disconnecting customers is the last thing we want to do,” said Robinson. “We encourage our customers to contact us if they are having trouble so we can make arrangements.”

Robinson said average monthly payment plans are available to spread the amounts so customers can better manage payments.

He said disconnect notices are sent to customers who haven’t made a payment in 60 to 90 days. After the first notice is sent, a second notice is attached to the doorknob of the residence with information telling the customer to make a payment.

“After this they are subject to disconnect,” said Robinson. He said the power company usually doesn’t disconnect power to a residence if temperatures are below freezing.

“They look at that,” said Robinson. “We are allowed to and generally don’t (disconnect power). It’s a last resort, but sometimes it is necessary.”

Robinson said paying customers will end up paying for those who don’t pay their own bills. It could be accounted for in the next rate increase.

“As a paying customer, you are subsidizing,” he said.

He said deposit fees do exist for new customers and those who have their power turned back on. Robinson said the exact amount of a deposit depends on the individual customer. It depends on the past relationship, payment history and previous payments.

Call Kentucky Power Co. at 1-800-572-1113. Combs may be reached at (502) 564-8100 ext. 669. The number for State Rep. John Short is 1-800-372-7181. Sen. Johnny Ray Turner is available at (502) 564-6136. The number for the Public Service Commission is 1-800-772-4636.

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