Alaskans need just and reasonable home heating rates
Alaskans are struggling with high energy costs throughout the state. Seniors and others on fixed incomes are particularly burdened when heating oil and gas rates rise.
Even in Anchorage, which has ready access to natural gas, rising heating rates hit hard. On July 1 Enstar ratepayers across Southcentral Alaska saw their rates shoot up by over 48 percent. But more troubling than the rate hike itself is how the Regulatory Commission of Alaska rubber stamped Enstar’s requested increase.
We give public utilities a government sanctioned monopoly in exchange for regulating their prices. When a utility proposes a rate, the Regulatory Commission of Alaska must decide whether it is “just and reasonable.”
Unfortunately, in this case the RCA decided against a full adjudicatory investigation. Instead, it approved Enstar’s 48 percent rate hike based on a single unsworn letter from Enstar with attached spreadsheets. Further, the RCA did not require Enstar to notify ratepayers. Without public notice or an investigation, Enstar was the only party that could legally appeal the RCA’s decision. It took a major public outcry to convince the RCA to hold a meeting. While Enstar has lowered rates slightly and is considering other steps to mitigate future increases, the RCA clearly dropped the ball.
Reform is needed to restore confidence in Alaska’s utility regulations. Given Alaskans’ dependence on home heating, utilities should shoulder the burden of proof to show that their increases are reasonable. I propose legislation requiring the RCA to order public notice and conduct a full adjudicatory investigation for any request for a significant rate increase, and to consider ways to protect consumers.
How can you protect yourself from home heating costs? If you qualify for LIHEAP heating assistance, make sure to apply this month. Go to benefits.gov, call 1-800-470-3058, or visit a Public Assistance office to start your application. Grants start November 1. State weatherization programs can also help you reduce your overall heating bills.
The other thing you can do is make sure your government representatives understand how important this issue is. Tell your legislators you want the RCA to serve Alaskans and to protect your interests. Oil and gas companies demand fiscal certainty, so why can’t we expect the same treatment on our energy bills? Alaskan consumers have the right to be heard. We deserve to be confident that our rates are indeed just and reasonable.
Laurie Hummel is a Retired Army Colonel and a candidate for State House in District 15.