Finally time to address the utility issue

Published 12:22 pm Saturday, February 17, 2018

After years of complaints about high utility bills by customers of Franklin Power and Light, it’s time for city leaders to do something about the problem. For the record, I don’t know if there is in fact a problem with the city’s billing system or the electric meters at customers’ residences or the utility’s infrastructure or if there is even a problem at all. Nobody else seems to know either. And that is the problem of which I speak.

After a brutal cold snap in January, many residents this month were shocked when they opened their electric bills. Common sense dictates that when the temperatures drop, heating-related electricity usage should go up. But the amount of the increase has caught many residents off guard and ill prepared to pay the higher bills. Utility customers have demanded answers. Few have been given. It’s a story that repeats itself every couple of years, and one the city ought to put to rest.

The last thing any government wants or needs local or otherwise, is additional bureaucracy or yet another committee. In this case, however, it may be called for. To get to the bottom of the issue, the city should consider establishing a citizen’s advisory committee. The panel would consist of a few concerned utility customers, key utility employees and a couple members of city council and city administration. The actions the committee should take would include overseeing an audit of all aspects of the city’s electric utility, ranging from pricing to infrastructure integrity, conducted by an independent third party.

It should engage local heating specialists to examine specific homes with extremely high heating costs to see if the exaggerated costs are due are in any way related to issues with the utility company or the efficiency of the home itself. When complete, all results of the audit should be made available to the public.

Citizen involvement in this audit would be vital, as there is the persistent impression that some customers are being overcharged. The goal of the process should be to determine if Franklin Power and Light is operating efficiently and in its customers’ best interest. If it is, which I suspect will be the case, it would finally end the rampant speculation of price gouging. If it is not, appropriate steps should be immediately taken to correct any problems.

And perhaps, when all is said and done, enough information will be gathered to determine if Franklin should be in the utility business to start with. We may learn that that was our problem in the first place.

Tony Clark is publisher of The Tidewater News. He can be reached at