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Ky. Utility Regulators Continue Push To Exclude Low-Income Groups In Rate Case

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Kentucky utility regulators are again trying to block groups advocating for low-income families from participating in the latest Louisville Gas & Electric rate case.

In November, regulators denied groups advocating for low-income families from participating in the latest Louisville Gas & Electric rate case while also allowing Walmart, Kroger and the U.S. Department of Defense to intervene.

Later that month, Judge Phillip Shepherd issued a temporary injunction allowing the groups the chance to request information from utilities and present testimony on behalf of low-income customers.

Kentucky’s utilities are regulated by a three-member board appointed by Gov. Matt Bevin known as the Public Service Commission.

Now the commission is asking the Kentucky Court of Appeals to block low-income groups from participating in the rate case. The Public Service Commission declined to comment and instead referred to court filings.

The Public Service Commission said its decision was not open to judicial review because the challenging parties have to prove its order was unlawful or unreasonable, among other arguments, court records show.

"The commission's orders are reasonable and lawful, and plaintiffs' various petitions should be dismissed," wrote Public Service Commission Attorney John Pinney.

According to court records, the commission said it denied groups a chance to intervene in the case for two reasons:

  1. The intervention of low-income advocacy groups was not likely to present facts that help the commission make a decision on the rate case.
  2. The interests of low-income advocates were already represented by the Attorney General.

To support its decision, the commission cited a single article where Attorney General Andy Beshear referenced support for low-income families in electricity rate cases.

But the Attorney General's Office said it cannot adequately represent low-income families in rate cases, and called on the appeals court to deny the commission's motion.

"Furthermore, the commission's motion, in a parade of legal gymnastics, is an attempt to deny any judicial review of the PSC's unlawful and unreasonable actions, is consistently at issue with itself and is rife with contradictions," according to a January court filing.

After years of allowing low-income advocacy organizations the chance to intervene in rate cases, Attorney Tom FitzGerald said there was "no rational or legitimate basis" for the commission to deny intervention by his clients, which include the Metropolitan Housing Coalition and the Association of Community Ministries.

"The commission acted arbitrarily and capriciously in denying intervention to these organizations, while allowing large industrial interests, large commercial interests, and large governmental interests to participate," he said.

In the meantime, low-income advocacy groups have been able to continue their requests for information from Louisville Gas & Electric.

The rate case 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 the Kentucky Public Radio Managing Editor. Email Ryan at rvanvelzer@lpm.org.