AARP calls Rocky Mountain Power's pending US$34M rate hike settlement deal, which would increase average monthly residential bills by 11.3% over two years, 'unfair', urges consumers to voice concerns to Idaho Public Utilities Commission

BOISE, Idaho , December 16, 2011 (press release) – Eastern Idaho Consumers Brace for $34 Million in Electric Rate Hikes as Idaho Public Utilities Commission Ponders Agreement – AARP Calls Deal Unfair

It's the one holiday "deal" consumers won't be lining up for, Rocky Mountain Power's newer $34 million utility rate hike settlement deal, which will mean larger electric bills for Eastern Idaho consumers in the New Year. AARP says the deal is a raw one and is opposing the hike to utility bills, urging residential consumers to make their voices heard on the issue as the Idaho Public Utilities Commission considers the rate increase.

Agreed to by those groups that had the money to intervene in the case and hire attorneys and other experts, along with the utility company and PUC staff, the settlement conference deal is a whopping $1.3 million higher than the utility company's original request of $32.7 million in rate hikes to the Idaho Public Utilities Commission (PUC). It means residential consumers would see an average 11.3% increase to their monthly bill over two years, 5.9% in 2012 and 5.4% in 2013 (while the original request was for a one year 7.2% increase in 2012), if approved by the PUC.

Absent from the settlement conference were the voices and views of residential customers and small businesses, including family farmers – who comprise the majority of electricity users in Idaho but didn't have the means to intervene and help broker the deal.

"How can Idahoans have confidence that this is a good deal when they weren't represented when it was made," said Jim Wordelman, State Director for AARP in Idaho. "This is an unfair rate hike to Idaho consumers. A deal like this simply shows the need to level the playing field in Idaho rate cases – too often, it seems Idaho utility companies come out ahead of consumers."

AARP is advocating for the creation of an Idaho utility consumer advocate office. Idaho is the only state in the West lacking a utility consumer advocate office to represent residential consumers and small businesses, such as farms, in rate cases and other regulatory issues before the PUC and the courts. The PUC serves as an arbitrator in rate cases and regulatory issues, not an advocate, which AARP argues is much needed.

"This serves as yet another example of why Idaho needs an office of utility consumer advocate to serve as a watchdog for consumers and to represent and advocate for the needs, concerns and views of the Gem State's individuals, families, small business and farmers. It's time to change the game," added Wordelman. "AARP is encouraging our members and the public to make their voices heard loud and clear in opposition to more utility rate hikes."

State utility companies continually argue that Idaho has among the lowest utility rates in the nation, AARP counters by stating that the Gem State also has the 49th lowest income in the nation, so utility rate hikes hit consumers particularly hard. According to an AARP survey released earlier this year, over 40% of Idahoans 50 and older reported already having difficulty affording their current utility bills.

The PUC is holding a public hearing on the new settlement deal in the rate hike case next Monday, Dec. 19, at 7 p.m. Consumers can listen to the hearing and testify by calling toll-free 1-800-920-7487 and entering the following participant code: 76373262 followed by the pound sign (#). The commissioners who decide the case will be in attendance in the commission's hearing room in Boise.

The public can also weigh in on-line by filing their comments with the PUC and referencing case #PAC-E-11-12.

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