We didn’t ask for smart meters, so why tap us for cash?

The PUC wants to increase delivery charges starting May 1, “to reflect the recovery of costs for deployed smart meters.” Did we ask for those meters? Are they of any benefit to us? No and no.

Last Thursday’s paper had a very large ad: “Notice of application for an electricity distribution rate change – PUC Distribution Inc.”

If approved, the average impact will be an increase of $3.42 per month for the next 12 months, it said. That’s $41.04 more per year for something we didn’t want in the first place. Given the 29,385 meters already installed, PUC will be clawing back $1,205,960 over 12 months.

If you ask me, PUC should not be taking that money from us. It had pretty tidy net earnings for the past three years running, and taking a quick peek at PUC annual reports, I’d say there are a few places the corporation could look for that money other than in the pockets of cash-strapped senior citizens and many others on fixed incomes.

For example, there was an $896,000 increase in administration expenses from 2009 to 2010, and comparing 2010 to 2008 the increase is $1,102,000. Cutting back administration costs to 2008 levels would almost eliminate the need to call on us for more money. (I’d jab them about the number of PUC employees on the sunshine list, but I can’t find any on it. Perhaps that’s why PUC incorporated, to avoid being criticized for its hefty wages?)

Even with trimming the administrative fat, the PUC would still be short about $100,000. Wait, we’ve heard that number recently in relation to PUC — in Doug Millroy’s column. It was that donation made by the PUC that was questioned, not in terms of merit, but in the spirit of that not being its money to spend. The city is the sole shareholder of PUC, and we make up the city, so perhaps if PUC didn’t decide how to spend our money in the community, especially providing donations to those who seem to not be arms length, it would have all the money it needed for the smart meters.

Digging deeper in this regard, community relations expense on the income statement in 2010 ($976,800) now floats at 147% of the 2006 amount ($663,046), which represents a $313,754 difference.

PUC, you don’t need to tap us for cash. Physician heal thyself.

I’m sorry, but I’m not convinced that these proposed rate increases are for smart meter recovery. Perhaps this latest increase is to begin paying for that shiny new building being erecting on Second Line – leaving yet another downtown building vacant? Or should we all brace ourselves for the rate increases proposed when the final invoice is received on the building?

While I’m on the subject, is now really the time to build a new facility when the annual reports keep talking about “a significant portion of our system is now more than 40 years old and needs to be replaced?” Wouldn’t it be wiser to invest in shiny new wires instead of nice corner offices?

Given how complex these applications are, I may have misunderstood something, but regardless, there are facts that are undeniable: We thought smart meters were going to help us conserve the money in our wallets, and conserve energy, but now, not only are they costing us extra in terms of billing rates, we are also being asked to pay for the privilege.

Boo.

We own the PUC, so it is up to us to intervene.

 

Last week’s big ad says we can participate in the hearing as an intervener, an observer, or send letters of comment. We only have 10 days from the date of publication to request intervener or observer status, and only have 30 days to send letters of comment, otherwise it will all be done and we can watch our bills go up, again, May 1.

E-mail me if you want the information on how to become a participant. Or better yet, e-mail PUC’s jennifer.uchmanowicz@ssmpuc.com 705-759-3009 (and copy me). But do it fast, time is ticking — only four days left.

The history page of the PUC’s website says it was formed in 1917 and the “public utility was both owned by and accountable to its customers, a public utility commission ensured the supply of power and water at the lowest possible cost with service responsive to local needs.”

Lowest possible cost? Responsive to local needs?

This is leaving a bad taste in my mouth – and it’s not just the free chlorine that is making me feel tapped.

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