By: KFOR – The Oklahoma Corporation Commission held a special meeting Monday concerning a proposed senate bill that would change how utility companies ask for rate changes.
Senate Bill 1103, or the Ratepayer Protection Act, is generally supported by electric utilities and opposed by consumers and business advocates.
Those for the bill, such as OG&E, say it will make utilities more efficient and accountable, while those against it say it will increase electric bills for consumers and decrease Corporation Commission oversight.
The Senate Energy and Telecommunications Committee voted 10-2 in support of the bill on March 2.
OG&E spokesman Aaron Cooper explained that with the bill, rate changes would become performance-based.
“If performance-based rates become law, then this would add more transparency and accountability to the process because it would lead to a yearly review of our costs and our investments,” he said. “The Corporation Commission would take a look at those every year. Whereas now, they look only when an electric company goes in for rate adjustments, which for OG&E is every three or four years. Under this bill, the Commission would look at our costs and investments every year and make a determination on that.”
But opponents like the Oklahoma Industrial Energy Consumers (OIEC) say it takes away the Commission’s authority to thoroughly investigate and regulate Oklahoma’s electric utilities. OIEC fears the utilities would then take advantage of consumers and businesses by hiking prices.
“The utilities will certainly file annual reviews and they’re not going to file for a decrease. That never happens,” said OIEC General Counsel Tom Schroedter. “It always ends up in a request for a rate increase.”
He described it as a “one-way profit center for utility companies and their shareholders.”
“The Corporation Commission cannot reject a performance-based rate plan,” he continued. “The law requires the Corporation Commission to accept a performance-based rate filing, and that is not good for customers.”
OG&E told the Commission that the bill will protect customers from huge price shocks like that of Winter Storm Uri in 2021, by requiring electric utilities to have stored natural gas in preparation for such events.
They also explained that through the bill, they’d return 100 percent of excess profits to customers, 75 percent through direct refunds, and 25 percent invested in improving grid reliability.
“They shouldn’t be able to retain 25 percent of that and make investments that haven’t been reviewed and that we might not agree with,” countered Schroedter. “So, 100 percent of those refunds need to come back to ratepayers.”
The Commission ended up not voting on a stance for SB 1103 Monday. A motion for a vote was put forward but two of the three commissioners would not give a second, saying they’re too busy with a major case involving the 2021 winter storm to give their due diligence on this.
“The way this agency handled the last ‘Consumer Protection Act’ cost Oklahoma ratepayers a billion dollars more than Commissioner Hiett said it would, and two billion dollars more than the utilities said was even owed for that 2021 Winter Storm,” said Commissioner Bob Anthony in a released statement about Monday’s special meeting concerning SB 1103. “We need to stop the obstruction and cover-up and do our duty to find the truth about what went horribly wrong with the last one before we start offering our ‘advice’ on any more utility regulation legislation.”
Cooper said OG&E expects the senate floor to vote on the SB 1103 on Wednesday or Thursday.