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Judge Rules Utility Regulators Must Accept Low-Income Advocates In Rate Case

Power_pole electricity

The Franklin Circuit Court has ruled Kentucky utility regulators must include groups advocating for low-income families in the latest Louisville Gas & Electric rate case.

Regulators denied groups including the Sierra Club and the Association of Community Ministries from intervening in the rate case earlier this month, while at the same time granting the right to Walmart and Kroger.

Plaintiff Attorney Tom FitzGerald said it was the first time in more than a decade low-income groups were denied the right to intervene, and he's pleased with the case’s outcome.

“So we can get back to the business of trying to make sure that these concerns of low-income advocates and affordable housing advocates are being taken care of when rates are being raised,” FitzGerald said.

Judge Phillip Shepherd granted the temporary injunction on Wednesday. The ruling allows groups that were initially denied access to request information from utilities and present testimony on behalf of low-income customers.

Kentucky’s Public Service Commission is tasked with balancing the interests of ratepayers with the needs of utilities when considering a rate hike. Ordinarily, businesses and advocacy groups intervene to represent their interests.

In this case, the commission decided the Attorney General’s Office was capable of addressing the needs of low-income customers, making the other groups unnecessary.

The PSC's evidence was based on a single news article quoting Attorney General Andy Beshear and was unrelated to rate adjustment cases. In the ruling, Shepherd called the article "political rhetoric" with no value as evidence.

The ruling said the Public Service Commission’s decision to deny the group would set a “dangerous precedent.”

“Here, however, the plaintiffs were denied intervention without any rational explanation, and the Attorney General is now responsible for representing those diverse interests, without the participation of the public interest groups with the most knowledge and expertise on the issue,” according to the ruling.

The ruling notes that Beshear also supports the intervention of the advocacy groups.

A spokesman for the Public Service Commission said it was still reviewing the decision and unable to comment.

Louisville Gas & Electric is requesting rate increases that could increase monthly electricity bills about $4.23 on average. Average gas rates would rise about $4.93 per month, said  LG&E spokeswoman Natasha Collins.

Ryan Van Velzer is WFPL's Energy and Environment Reporter. Email Ryan at rvanvelzer@lpm.org.