Kerwin Olson is executive director of Citizens Action Coalition.
Most are well aware by now that Indiana Michigan Power is before the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission seeking “relief” through a significant rate increase. If I&M gets what it's asking for, the average I&M residential customer will be hit with a monthly bill increase of nearly 28 percent, or $30 a month.
This request comes even though I&M's monthly bills have increased 62 percent over the last 10 years (36 percent in the last five years alone). At the same time, I&M's parent company, American Electric Power, reports year-to-date operating earnings of $844 million. Meanwhile, Hoosier households struggle with declining and stagnant income and wages, and significant increases in the cost of energy, health care, food and other necessities. Whom do we need to help?
The most outrageous item that I&M is seeking is an astounding 147 percent increase in the fixed monthly charge component of your electric bill. This is the amount you pay regardless of how much electricity you use. I&M wants to raise the monthly fixed charge from $7.30 to $18. That's right, I&M wants you to give them 18 bucks a month before you use any electricity.
High monthly fixed charges are inequitable and unfair, as this practice disproportionately hurts households on low or fixed incomes, most notably senior citizens and people with disabilities. We should be helping vulnerable households, not harming them.
High monthly fixed charges are anticompetitive. Higher fixed charges reduce the economic return from saving energy and generating your own electricity at home with solar panels or other types of distributed energy technology. The utility steals a portion of your bill savings to pad and protect its profits.
Other businesses with fixed costs – the oil industry, hotels and grocery stores, for example – do not impose mandatory fees to cover those fixed costs. Instead, such costs are reflected in the product price, and consumers can control how much they spend by how much they purchase. The same should be true for electric consumers. Increasing the fixed charge causes you to lose much of your ability to control your electric bill. When you have to pay more each month regardless of how much electricity you use, you have less control over your family's energy costs.
But there's something you can do. Customers of I&M will have the rare opportunity to have their voices heard before state regulators. The IURC will be holding a public field hearing at the Grand Wayne Center on Oct. 10, beginning at 6 p.m. This is your chance to speak out.
The IURC rarely hears from the public, despite the notion that it is a neutral party charged with equally balancing the interests of the utility with the interests of customers and the public. Please attend and tell the IURC that enough is enough. The company is financially healthy. It's customers who need relief.