Was it just us, or did Rocky Mountain Power's announcement that it will scale back some services after it was denied the full $74 million rate hike it sought from the Utah Public Service Commission appear petulant? Some government officials say the utility, which is required under law to provide adequate electric service to Utah customers, could face a legal challenge over its statements.
The electrical utility, which enjoys near monopoly status in Utah with the exception of a handful of municipal power agencies, was granted a $33 million hike, which will increase the average customer's bill about $16 a year. That increase is insufficient to meet Utah's power needs, Rocky Mountain Power officials say. So, the utility is instituting changes such as limiting overtime to restoring power "only when employee or public safety is threatened."
How does the utility determine when employee or public safety is compromised? If someone runs an in-home elder care or child care business, public safety and employee safety could be compromised by a long-term power outage. How is the utility to parse out these individual circumstances if such a business operates in a residential neighborhood? What if a family caring for a frail relative does not have sufficient light or power to properly administer medicine or operate needed medical equipment?
Another announced change is to freeze customer service positions in Utah. Most customers' only interaction with the utility involves customer service representatives. Sometimes, however, it is very difficult to reach a real-live human being. Calls are often routed to recorded messages or long waits for the next available customer service agent. This only compounds customer frustration.
For the most part, Utahns enjoy relatively low-priced electrical service. Large-scale supply interruptions are rare. But many Utahns recall the nearly weeklong outages experienced by some Salt Lake County customers in late December 2003, when the utility was held by Scottish Power. What would another announced change curtailing use of contractors mean in the face of another catastrophic power outage?
The Public Service Commission carefully deliberates applications for rate increases to ensure utilities have reasonable operating revenue and capital funding and so that customers are not over
whelmed with price increases. Perhaps Rocky Mountain Power needs more than $33 million. It is appealing the decision. It is also possible that it didn't make a strong enough case to support a larger rate increase. Is that the fault of the rank-and-file customer?