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    PSO seeks another electricity rate increase


    November 23, 2022 - Curtis Killman

     

      Average residential electric bills would increase another roughly $14 per month under a proposal sought by Public Service Company of Oklahoma.

      If approved, it would be at least the third rate increase for its more than 560,000 customers since last December.

      The utility company is seeking the increase as part of a rate review it filed Tuesday with the Oklahoma Corporation Commission. If approved, the measure seeks to increase PSO net revenue by $173 million annually.

      For the average residential customer who uses 1,100 kilowatt-hours per month, the proposal would increase monthly rates by $14.11 or 10%, the company said in a news release.

      Commercial account rates would increase 8.1%, while industrial customers would see rates rise 8.9% under the proposal, a spokesman said.

      "These are difficult times for many people, and all of us at PSO are committed to working efficiently and investing in technology to keep prices competitive while maintaining reliable service," said PSO President and Chief Operating Officer Leigh Anne Strahler.

      "We work with customers to address individual needs and help our customers reduce their energy use. We offer weatherization assistance, rebates, incentives, valuable conservation information and flexible payment options to help customers manage their bills."

      In the past 11 months, the Oklahoma Corporation Commission has approved two PSO requests that resulted in rate increases for its customers.

      In December, the commission approved new rates for PSO that called for average residential customer bills to increase $5.07 per month, or less than 5%.

      Prior to the increase, PSO rates were based on its 2018 expenses.

      In February, the commission approved a plan that allowed PSO to recover $675 million in fuel costs after they shot up during the February 2021 cold snap. The plan calls for customers to pay an additional monthly charge of $4.06 over 20 years.

      Costs for PSO shot up in February 2021 as temperatures in Oklahoma and much of the country dipped to the single digits and below zero during a roughly 10-day period. The extreme weather resulted in a shortage of natural gas supply, the failure of certain infrastructure and enhanced demand for natural gas and electric power.

      As a result, PSO and other regulated utilities operating in the state purchased energy on the spot market at exorbitant prices.

      Asked for comment, AARP Oklahoma State Director Sean Voskuhl expressed concern about PSO's latest request.

      "AARP Oklahoma will intervene in this rate case on behalf of residential customers in Oklahoma," Voskuhl said in a statement. "We are extremely concerned about another electric rate hike's impact on Oklahomans, who are once again asked to shoulder the burden.

      "These back-to-back rate increases come on the backs of hardworking Oklahomans whose budgets are stretched and making difficult choices between food, prescription drugs and keeping the lights on. Oklahomans are tightening their belts. It's time PSO does the same thing."

      PSO said Tuesday that its rate increase request, which would provide "greater security, reliability, long-term affordability, resilience, safety and economic growth," is in line with "current levels of investment and costs incurred to serve customers."

      The company said its proposal would provide funding to harden its electrical grid resulting in fewer, smaller and shorter power outages, while encouraging clean energy and protecting the public and its workers.

      Since Jan. 1, 2020, power outages have been reduced by more than 13 million minutes as a result of its electric grid investments, the company said.

      PSO also said it would expand its renewable energy sources, "providing fuel-free power as a hedge against a major source of inflation — rising fuel prices."

      Oklahoma would also be more competitive for attracting jobs and investment because of several aspects of the proposal, the company said.

      Rate reviews typically go before an administrative law judge first, who will hear evidence for and against the proposal, a Corporation Commission spokesman said.

      The administrative law judge will then issue a recommendation to the Corporation Commission, which will hold public hearings and has the final say on the request.

      Last week, PSO asked the Corporation Commission to approve a separate plan by the electric utility to purchase three new wind farms and three new solar facilities in Kansas and Texas.

      The $2.47 billion investment in the fuel-free proposal could save customers $1 billion in fuel costs over 30 years, the company said. It also is designed to protect PSO patrons from sudden spikes in natural gas prices and purchased power such as those that occurred during the February 2021 winter storm.

      The proposal would fund the purchase of a total of 995.5 megawatts of new renewable energy. After all the facilities are online by the end of 2025, an average residential customer would see an estimated initial monthly bill increase of $3.48 (2.6%).

      Because of ongoing market volatility and variables such as supply-chain issues and fuels costs, the precise impact on customer bills is difficult to project, the company said.

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