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The Journal Gazette

Friday, May 17, 2019 1:00 am

Editorial

Sound off on electricity

Consumer input vital on I&M rate-hike pitch

Be heard
To read more from I&M about the rate-increase request filed this week, go to www.IndianaMichiganPower.com/Innovate Indiana.

The Indiana Office of Utility Counselor is already accepting comments on the I&M request. Go to www.in.gov/oucc, or:

E-mail

uccinfo@oucc.IN.gov

Mail

Indiana Office of Utility Consumer Counselor

PNC Center

115 W. Washington St.,

Suite 1500 South

Indianapolis, Indiana 46204

Fax

(317) 232-5923

Be sure to include your full name, mailing address, email address if applicable and daytime telephone number.

Comments can’t be taken over the phone, but call the counselor’s office at 888-441-2494 if you have questions about the process.

"

Just as we knew warmer weather would eventually arrive, it's no surprise Indiana Michigan Power is asking for another series of rate increases for electric service. It's been a whole year and three months since a settlement on I&M's last request.

This time, the utility is asking for an 11.75% jump overall, including a 40% increase in the flat, residential service portion of the fee that can't be reduced by turning down the heat or flipping off lights. The proposed three-step increase would have typical customers who use 1,000 killowatts of electricity paying $21.11 more per month by 2021.

Once again, the utility will undergo a long process before any increase is ratified, modified or rejected by the five-member Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission. Once again, everyone potentially affected by this increase will have an opportunity to weigh in – including you, the customer.

The Indiana Office of Utility Consumer Counselor, which advocates for residential, commercial and industrial interests in all utility cases, takes the input of individual Hoosiers very seriously, Anthony Swinger, the office's spokesman, said Thursday.

“A rate case before a public-service commission in any state is a very complicated puzzle – not 1,000 pieces, but a 1,000-, 2,000-, 3,000- or 4,000-piece puzzle, at least. Consumer comments are ... very important pieces of that puzzle,” Swinger said.

“There has to be at least one public hearing in any rate case of this magnitude,” he said. So Fort Wayne, as the largest city in the service area affected, will be the site of a hearing within the next few months. The schedule will be announced within a couple of weeks, Swinger said.

The counselor's office is already accepting written comments (see box). Those comments, and the remarks of those who attend a hearing, are studied by the consumer counselor staff and become a part of the record the utility commission reviews before its decision, Swinger said.

Last time around, I&M's original request, made in summer 2017, was substantially reduced by the time the company announced in February 2018 a settlement with a group of intervenors that included private companies, the City of Fort Wayne and consumer groups. The utility's savings from a federal tax cut were a factor. But there was also spirited citizen input, including three well-attended hearings and 2,700 comments collected by the consumer counselor's office.

I&M had asked to be allowed to increase the residential-service portion of its fees from $7.30 to $18 – a potentially damaging blow to the utility's poorest customers. The company eventually settled for an increase of $3.20 – still almost 44% – in that flat fee; the overall increase to average customers was slashed, as well.

Prepare to let your voices be heard.