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Electric Bill Gives Lawmakers More Say On Rates

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Lawmakers are advancing legislation, SB115, that changes some of the policies that guide electric power rates.

Advocates say consumer electric rates are at risk, thanks toa bill that’s advancing in the final days of the legislative session.

Lawmakers have been discussing legislation for months that would give the Legislature itself more say in what costs Rocky Mountain Power can pass along to its customers. The Utah Public Service Commission would still have its rate-setting job. But lawmakers want to change some of the rules that the three-person commission must consider when it’s weighing the electric utility’s rate-hike requests.

“Our economy’s driven on low electric prices and low gas prices,” said sponsoring Sen. Stuart Adams, R-Layton. “When we let a three-member committee dictate policies, I think we’ve given up our fiduciary responsibilities as a legislature to set policy.”

The power company and industrial power customers have been negotiating the details with Adams for weeks. And changes in the latest version have prompted the solar industry to back off past objections. But consumer advocates still oppose it. Claire Geddes, a longtime utility watchdog, criticized the bill at a hearing Tuesday.

“This is not your policy,” she said. “This is Rocky Mountain Power’s Policy, and what they’re doing is asking you to sanctify it. This is very unfair to consumers. Your constituents are all going to pay the bill for this.”

Several lawmakers attempted to stall and amend the bill, but the House Public Utilities and Technology Committee voted, 6 to 5, to pass it.

The measure won’t become law without approval from the full House and the Senate, but time’s running out.  The general session ends midnight Thursday.

Judy Fahys has reported in Utah for two decades, covering politics, government and business before taking on environmental issues. She loves covering Utah, where petroleum-pipeline spills, the nation’s radioactive legacy and other types of pollution provide endless fodder for stories. Previously, she worked for the Salt Lake Tribune in Utah, and reported on the nation’s capital for States News Service and the Scripps League newspaper chain. She is a longtime member of the Society of Environmental Journalists and Investigative Reporters and Editors. She also spent an academic year as a research fellow in the Knight Science Journalism program at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. In her spare time, she enjoys being out in the environment, especially hiking, gardening and watercolor painting.
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