Two bills filed at the State Legislature would stop regulated utilities in Oklahoma from enacting interim rates during lengthy rate cases, according to a January 25 report by The Oklahoman.
The bills were filed after both Oklahoma Gas & Electric and Public Service Co. of Oklahoma proposed interim rates in 2016 that two administrative law judges later said were too high. Interim rates are subject to refund, with interest.
Senate Bill 282, introduced by State Senator Nathan Dahm, (R-Broken Arrow) on January 18; and House Bill 1891, introduced by State Representative Pat Ownbey (R-Ardmore) on January 19, would stop regulated utilities from implementing interim rates if their rate cases aren’t resolved within 180 days, the local news outlet reported.
“They had a tele-town hall last summer that I tuned into and there was a lot of concern over interim rates going in during the summer months,” Dahm said. “There’s also concern over how utilities haven’t been consistent with the refunds. It’s something we’re continuing to consider. Legislation is always in flux, but we’re looking to protect the taxpayers and those on fixed incomes.”
Dahm said he worked with AARP Oklahoma, a state chapter of the advocacy organization for mature Americans, on the bill, which he described to The Oklahoman as “a work in progress.” The legislative session begins Feb. 6.
For their part, the regulated utilities, OG&E and PSO, stated that the interim rate provision remains “a fair way” to deal with long-running rate cases at the Oklahoma Corporation Commission.
PSO spokesperson Stan Whiteford told the newspaper that the utility invests hundreds of millions of dollars each year “to ensure that our customers have the reliable and affordable electric service that they expect.
“The existing 180-day rule helps us accomplish timely recovery for those investments,” Whiteford said. “While we haven’t yet had an opportunity to visit with the authors [of the legislation], we look forward to working with them to explain why the rule is important.”
Ownbey pushed back, saying that Oklahoma is just one of a handful of states that allow interim rates during pending rate cases. He told the news outlet that it didn’t seem fair that utilities could unilaterally implement the rates as they await a final order from the Corporation Commission.
Although interim rates are refunded, with interest, if the commission disagrees, Ownbey described them as “forced loans” from customers.
“I think there ought to be more oversight in the process,” Ownbey said. “It’s a fairness bill….I don’t blame the utility companies, I really blame the Corporation Commission. I do believe the Corporation Commission could solve these problems if they could act in a more timely manner.”
Corporation Commission spokesperson Matt Skinner told The Oklahoman that commissioners typically don’t comment on pending legislation.