[Excerpt from Guest Column by VOICE-OKC leaders]
"In the matter of the February Freeze and utility costs, the Oklahoma Corporation Commission (OCC) is failing us.
OCC's own "Vision" promises to "hold itself and utilities accountable to the citizens of Oklahoma," but it allows secrecy and evades answering public questions.
VOICE is a coalition of churches and community groups concerned about issues affecting families, so we looked at OCC documents. Utilities don't profit from the February price spikes, so why secrecy? In the middle of the freeze, Oklahoma Natural Gas (ONG) asked the OCC on Feb. 16 to keep all price records secret. The OCC said yes after just 48 hours.
We now know that ONG put Oklahomans in debt by an extra $1.3 billion in just nine days.
.... VOICE-OKC made the common-sense suggestion that when home energy prices spike suddenly, consumers should receive real-time updates from utilities. Imagine how much more conservation would have occurred in February if utilities (as they knew) said "your price for energy tomorrow is going up by 500%." However, OCC has dismissed this idea; it's another example of OCC favoring monopoly corporations over consumers."
[Photo Credit: From right to left: Eric Jergensen, President of VOICE Action Fund and S. Bennet Goldman, a member of VOICE through First Unitarian Church of OKC. Via The Oklahoman]
VOICE (Voices Organized in Civic Engagement) of Oklahoma City condemns the Oklahoma Corporation Commission for apparent conflict of interest in campaign contributions they have received.
The three elected members of the Oklahoma Corporation Commission, which regulates utilities and numerous other industries, have taken hundreds of thousands of dollars in campaign contributions from those they’re tasked with regulating during their most recent election cycle, a CNHI Oklahoma [News] investigation has found.
“The rubber stamping so quickly has me worried that this world is just too cozy between regulators and the companies they’re supposed to be watching," said Steven Goldman, a member of VOICE, a coalition of groups that have come together to advocate for Oklahoma City-area residents. He became interested in the Commission after members of his Oklahoma City congregation started expressing concerns about increasing utility rates.
Goldman said he believes the Commission is more invested in protecting businesses over consumers and in limiting public access.....
"[R]oofing contractors face litigation from the Attorney General’s Office if they raise prices more than 10% after a natural disaster, but companies that increased natural gas costs by 1,000% have yet to face any consequences."
Oklahoma City religious and community leaders are raising questions about how power providers plan to recover an estimated $4.5 billion spent on fuel during February's severe winter storm.
Power providers spent so much in the wake of the storm, a customer who might normally see a $100 February bill could have seen a nearly $2,000 bill instead, with months of similar bills to follow.
Some legislators recently submitted plans to mitigate these costs over time, but leaders of the civic organization VOICE OKC want assurance the process won't pass unreasonable fuel costs on to consumers.
“If we as consumers are going to be asked to pay $4.5 billion, we deserve transparency,”
said Eric Jergensen, a VOICE member representing the Oscar Romero Catholic Worker House.
[Photo Credit: Bryan Terry/The Oklahoman]
Advocates Call For Transparent Investigations Into Cost Spikes, The Norman Transcript [pdf]
Specifically leaders asked for attentiveness to the pricing scheme for lower income utility users. "With those big rate increases we think those at the bottom of the income scale should be helped," said COPS METRO Alliance leader Mike Phillips. "If somebody were to go of out their tier they would immediately be hit with the first level tier payments. We want to see the payment tiers reworked."Read more