Politics & Government

Lawmakers want study of elected vs. appointed utility regulators

FRANKFORT — A panel of state lawmakers wants a study on whether electing the Kentucky Public Service Commission would be a better deal for utility ratepayers.

Currently, the governor appoints the three-member commission, which authorizes utility rate increases.

The Senate Natural Resources and Energy Committee on Wednesday approved a substitute version of Senate Bill 151. As sent to the full Senate, the bill calls for a legislative study of the PSC and whether electing the commissioners would make the PSC more responsive to citizens.

Sen. Ray Jones, D-Pikeville, said he originally sponsored a bill calling for an elected, seven-member PSC because of frustration over painfully large rate increases. In his district, American Electric Power last year won PSC approval for a 17 percent rate increase, Jones said.

"The current system is not adequately looking out for low-income ratepayers," Jones told the committee. "Folks in my district got a 17 percent increase. I can assure you that nobody got a 17 percent increase in their Social Security checks or their pensions or their paychecks."

Several witnesses before the committee — including some from the industrial sector, which uses a lot of electricity — said they sympathized. But they fear electing commissioners would allow utility companies to influence the process through campaign donations, possibly leading to even more rate increases, they said.