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Utility company projects often mean one thing for consumers: Higher rates. Yet in most cases, consumers have no idea of the impact the project could have on their monthly bills until it’s too late. That may soon change in Idaho and consumers could be armed with better information to fight unfair rate hikes. AARP Idaho announced its support for the move.
A new bill, House Bill 554, introduced at the Idaho statehouse calls for utility companies to disclose the projected costs of major investments up front, so the public would know how much monthly bills could be affected. The effort to “shine the light” on Idaho electric companies’ expenditures is being sponsored by Representative Marc Gibbs (R-Grace) and could provide consumers with a better glimpse into the murky waters of rate hikes and a stronger chance to fight them.
AARP is supporting the legislation because it would include the projected cost to consumers as a consideration when utilities plan for major expenditures.
“On the heels of recent electric rate hikes across Idaho, consumers, particularly those on limited incomes such as the 50+, are struggling and quite frankly a bit upset that their electric bills keep climbing,” said Angela Cortez, Interim State Director for AARP in Idaho. “Right now it seems utility companies hold all the cards when it comes to information on their projects that’ll cause rates to climb. This changes the game a bit in favor of the consumer and that’s the right move. AARP commends Rep. Gibbs for moving this issue forward.”
The legislation will require the electric company to fully disclose the anticipated impact of large capital expenditures on rates during the planning process, as opposed to afterwards. By providing the information upfront, the measure would better allow the Public Utilities Commission (PUC) to make informed decisions during the planning process, and give consumers a better opportunity to evaluate projects that could result in future rate hikes.
“At the end of the day utility issues come down to what effect they’ll have on Idahoans kitchen table economies, and AARP stands in support of efforts to ensure rate hikes are fair and justified,” Cortez said. “AARP will work with other stakeholders on this issue, including the PUC utilities and other customer groups, to ensure this legislation is as strong as it needs to be to level the playing field for all Idaho consumers.”
AARP Idaho also is gearing up for another utility issue fight over the creation of a utility consumer advocate office to represent consumers in utility rate hike and regulatory cases. Idaho is currently the only state in the West (and one of a handful nationwide) lacking such an office. With more than 40 percent of the state’s 50+ reporting difficulty paying their utility bills, this issue is AARP Idaho’s top legislative priority.