Despite announcing that the hearing wasn't a two-way conversation where he would directly interact with the commenters, Commissioner McKinney sure was argumentative with a handful of the people who gave testimony. He took offense at comments that he believed were not factual, instead of simply listening. I wonder why he thought it was his job to defend FirstEnergy like that? The first thing Commissioner McKinney began to argue with a commenter about was the percentage of the proposed rate increase. McKinney insisted that it was a 14% rate increase. After much confusion and back and forth, PSC staff attorney John Auville managed to prevail on the fact that the rate increase for residential customers will be 17.2%. This is the number Commissioner McKinney kept denying. However, it is also the number listed on the rate increase pamphlet that FirstEnergy sent out in recent bills to customers. I find it rather alarming that Commissioner McKinney refuses to admit the true magnitude of this rate increase on residential customers. Commissioner McKinney's 14% increase figure included the average increase among different customer classes (residential, commercial and industrial). Residential customers pay the highest rates, so their increase will be much higher. Yesterday's public hearing attendees were all residential ratepayers. Commercial and industrial customers hire lawyers and directly intervene in these kinds of cases. Residential ratepayer participation is limited to public hearing commentary because the Commission believes residential ratepayers may only be formally represented by the state's Consumer Advocate and cannot protect their own interests in rate cases. Therefore, the only number that mattered at yesterday's public comment hearing is:
But this isn't the only "fact" Commissioner McKinney felt compelled to correct in his defense of FirstEnergy.... there were many other commenters who were informed that their public comments were incorrect as they made their way back to their seats.
Here's a nice summary of the comments made at the afternoon session.
And a TV news story.
It seems that The Journal is the only outlet that covered the evening session, where the Commission heard sharp criticism from Delegate Stephen Skinner. Senator John Unger was understandably dismayed that neither the PSC nor the company bothered to notify him of the public hearing and he was unable to attend. Senator Unger will follow-up with written comments.
Where were the rest of our legislators? Better check those campaign finance reports for big FirstEnergy donations...
After listening to several dozen articulate and energetic commenters at both sessions, I've gotta say my favorite speaker was Robert Whalen, UWUA Local 102 President. He spoke at length about FirstEnergy's many failures, from its skimping on maintenance to its refusal to hire enough workers. He said that FirstEnergy only wants to spend on capital projects that earn a return, while attempting to avoid maintenance projects. FirstEnergy is paid a fixed amount for maintenance work. If the company doesn't spend all it collects, then that extra can be used to inflate earnings. Whalen even voiced suspicions that work reported as maintenance is changed to capital by corporate management. Is that sort of like cooking the books? Whalen made many very constructive suggestions for ways that the Commission could work with the union to improve service. As he succinctly put it... if you want to know the truth about FirstEnergy, you should ask the workers.
The Commission will hold formal evidentiary hearings on the rate increase later this month. Your rates will go up next spring... it's only a matter of how much.
If you missed the public hearings, you can still file a written comment with the PSC here.