Bill would require utilities to phase in big increases

Published 8:21 am Friday, January 30, 2009

RICHMOND—As a form of consumer protection, the State Corporation Commission may soon regulate electric-utility rate increases.

A bill introduced by Delegate Charles “Bill” Carrico, R-Galax, would require justification for increases.

If House Bill 2315 passes, proposed rate increases 15 percent higher than the previous year would be phased into residential billing. Interest rates would be set by the commission over a 36-month period.

This would result in fewer rate increases and allow time for consumers to adjust to their increased electric bills.

“It’s a win for the consumer,” said Allan Sharrett, press staff secretary for Delegate Terry Kilgore, R-Gate City. Kilgore is serving as co-patron of the bill with Sen. Phillip Puckett, D-Tazewell.

“He (Kilgore) wants to give relief to the tax payers so any future increases won’t hit them as hard,” Sharrett said.

The bill was created as relief from possible increases with fixed-income and elderly citizens in mind.

“We’re studying it. We’re analyzing it. As it involves electric utility rates we believe it will eventually come under the preview of the Commission for Electricity Regulation,” said Jim Norvelle, Dominion Power spokesman. “We look forward to hearing a discussion for it.”

The Division of Energy Regulation was created to assist the SCC with regulatory matters concerning electric utilities.

No Senate companion bill exists for HB 2315, which, if passed, would cause increases of 15 percent or higher to be deferred rather than applied immediately.

“Increased electrical utility rates have been a pressing concern lately for our constituents,” Kilgore and Carrico stated in a press release. “Especially in tough economic times, people cannot be expected to choose between electricity and basic necessities of daily life.”