If the Kentucky Public Service Commission is interested in showing it is paying proper attention to complaints being receiving from Kentucky Power Company customers in Letcher and 15 other eastern Kentucky counties, it will act immediately to open a formal investigation into what has caused power bills to rise so high that some families are being forced to do without proper food and needed medicine.
During the 54 years we have owned and operated this newspaper, we can think of no other issue that has generated as many calls for help and complaints of disgust as the skyrocketing cost of power bills. Many of the complaints come from single mothers who tell us about the hardships of trying to raise a child on a $600 monthly income while facing a monthly power bill of $500 or more.
After receiving similar complaints, Letcher County officials called on affected customers to contact the Public Service Commission for explanation. After all, it is the PSC which gave Kentucky Power the OK to hike its monthly rates by a whopping 31 percent in a period of less than five years, citing among its reasons a state law which says the agency cannot lawfully keep a public utility from making a “fair, just and reasonable” profit. Ironically, Kentucky Power is also laying blame for its rate increases on the PSC, saying “it is against the law” for the company to raise or lower bills without PSC approval.
Less we get too carried away with talking about the PSC and state law, we also need to point out that many of the most recent complaints being telephoned into our offices are from citizens who feel they were treated with disrespect when they did as their county’s leaders requested and dialed the PSC’s number in Frankfort. Not only should any PSC investigation ask why the rates have gone so high, it should also look at how well the agency’s staff is equipped to answer such questions and complaints.
Meanwhile, the Public Service Commission should take immediate steps to ensure that Kentucky Power does not disconnect power to any customer before spring, and then only after every effort has been made to work out a payment plan the PSC deems “fair, just and reasonable” for the customer. The PSC should also immediately order Kentucky Power to cease its practice of requiring customers who have been disconnected to pay deposits of as much as $500 to have their power turned back on.
94th District State Rep. Leslie Combs said she plans to honor a request by Letcher County officials that she file legislation that addresses both the rate hike and the makeup of the PSC to include representation by the poor and working class. We support her efforts.
How the PSC handles the Kentucky Power situation will go a long way toward determining whether it is seen by mountain residents as an agency that watches out for their interests or whether it is seen as an agency interested only in serving the needs of big utility companies.