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Utilities face $200 million bill for storms

LOUISVILLE — Electric utilities smacked by two of the worst power outages in Kentucky history will have more bad news for weary customers: higher electric bills and no promises that it can't happen again.

Power companies were forced to spend millions on line repairs after the remnants of Hurricane Ike in September and the January ice storm caused massive blackouts.

The utilities' bill from both storms is still being calculated, but the state agency that regulates power providers offered a staggering preliminary estimate.

"The damage to electric infrastructure statewide is likely to be in the neighborhood of $200 million," said Andrew Melnykovych, a spokesman for the Public Service Commission.

Non-profit cooperatives that provide power to rural areas were among the hardest-hit utilities in the ice storm. The Kentucky Association of Electric Cooperatives estimated its member utilities incurred damage of more than $114 million.

"I've been in the business for 15 years, and it's entirely the worst I've ever seen," said Dennis Cannon, a vice president with the cooperative association. The Ike storm "was difficult, but it was not nearly the size and scope" of the ice storm.

The same was true for the state's two largest utilities, Louisville Gas & Electric and Kentucky Utilities. Chris Whelan, a spokeswoman for the utilities' parent company, E.On, said their wind storm bills totaled nearly $27 million.

Whelan estimated LG&E customers can expect to pay 35 cents extra a month for five years per $10 million of storm damage, while Kentucky Utilities customers would see monthly bills go up 25 cents a month per $10 million of storm damage. But she said the utility has not requested any rate increases for either storm from the PSC, which would have to approve the increases.

Customers of cooperatives would potentially see smaller increases, Cannon said, because they're not privately owned and can get state and federal disaster assistance.

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