OG&E pushes for utility rate increase

Norman resident and Sierra Club member Charles Wesner wants OG&E to invest in sustainable practices rather than relying on fossil fuel generation.

Local electric provider OG&E wants to raise its utility rates by about $7.22 per month on the average residential customer’s bill. That’s a 6.6 percent hike when compared to current rates, the company said in a notice included with recent billing.

One facet of the request is a tariff on independent solar and wind generation, said Norman resident and Sierra Club member Charles Wesner.

“They call it distributed generation, but it has to do with customers putting in their own rooftop solar or even a wind generator,” Wesner said. “It’s already discouraged people from doing those things.”

Wesner said OG&E actually benefits from that privately generated power that goes onto their grid and can be used by anyone.

“They pay a fairly low rate — less than the cost of generation — to use the excess,” Wesner said.

While OG&E said there is an expense associated with using individually captured solar and wind power, Wesner said there have been numerous studies to show that cost is negligible.

“They also want to include $5 million on a solar research project they were doing,” Wesner said. “The Sierra Club is opposing that.”

The rate increase must be approved by the Oklahoma Corporation Commission, the state’s elected body of three commissioners, but first the case will be heard by an administrative law judge. The hearing begins at 10 a.m. on May 3 in Courtroom 301 of the third floor of the Jim Thorpe Building, 2101 N. Lincoln Blvd, Oklahoma City.

OG&E is asking for an annual increase of $92.5 million or 4.9 percent to “recover increased business costs and electric infrastructure investments” made since 2012, according to the OG&E ratepayer notice.

The Corporation Commission courtroom is booked for most of May and could run as long as three weeks, according to Corporation Commission spokesman Matt Skinner.

OG&E is the largest electric provider in Oklahoma and many concerned parties throughout the state will have legal representatives arguing the merits of the request.

“It’s a full court process with cross examination and witnesses,” Skinner said.

Once the hearing is complete, the judge makes a recommendation, and the three elected commissioners make a decision on the rate request.

Administrative law judges must have a background in the area in which they are ruling. In this case the judge must have expertise in public utility law and may have been a lawyer in that area prior to becoming an judge.

The administrative law judges are employed by the agency to hear these cases.

“Everybody’s a separate body to the case,” Skinner said. “The attorney general represents the consumer in the case. There are a great many parties to the case.”

Parties to the upcoming rate increase include: Alliance for Solar Choice, Oklahoma Hospital Association, Oklahoma Attorney General (representing consumers), OG&E Shareholders Association, Oklahoma Industrial Energy Consumers, AARP, Wal-Mart, VOICE, Oklahoma Energy Results LLC, Sierra Club, Oklahoma Sustainability Network, Wind Coalition, and the Public Utility Division of the Oklahoma Corporation Commission.

Often large corporations like Wal-Mart are parties to the case because of the potential effects of the increased rates on those entities, Skinner said. Large industries and trade associations are concerned about rate increases because they represent some of the largest electric users in the state.

If the rate increase is approved, general service customers would experience a 12.6 percent rate increase and industrial rate classes would run between 5.4 percent for power and light customers to a decrease of 1.6 percent for large power and light customers, according to the OG&E proposal.

Comments can be emailed to the Corporation Commission at m.hernandez@occemail.com or by regular mail to OG&E Rate Case Comments, c/o Office of General Counsel, Oklahoma Corporation Commission, P.O. Box 52000, Oklahoma City, Okla. 73152-2000.

In other Corporation Commission business, a separate request by OG&E for pre-approval to add scrubbers to the Sooner Coal Plant is posted for a vote today but that doesn’t mean the vote will take place, Skinner said.

If the Commissioners do vote, that would be the final decision unless appealed to the Oklahoma Supreme Court.

OG&E has invested well over $90 million so far in the scrubber project to meet recent Environmental Protection Agency mandates, but the entire cost of the project is $500 million, according to documents filed with the Corporation Commission.

The Sierra Club has fought the current unique request which amounts to a pre-approval for a rate increase down the road, according to court documents, though Skinner said there is no binding pre-approval.  

A rate increase to cover the $500 million investment would still have to be approved through the system after the scrubbers were operational. Still, a favorable vote by the Commission now, indicates a strong chance for a favorable outcome down the road. 

“We think they (OG&E) should retire that Sooner plant and rely more on solar and wind,” Wesner said. “It’s a ton of money. They should be using that money to invest in renewable sources.”

Wesner says there are conservation measures and other investments that would be more sustainable in the long term.

“As a consumer, it would be an enormous about of money,” Wesner said. “There’s a lot more we could be doing as far as incentivizing conservation.”

Joy Hampton

366-3544

jhampton@normantranscript.com

Follow me @joyinvestigates

My passions include yoga, running, swimming, cycling, hiking, nature photography and a love of animals and the natural environment.

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