For Immediate Release Contact: Jeanne K. Clark
April 3, 1998 412/421-6072
STATEMENT BY DAVID HUGHES, CITIZEN POWER
EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR ON THE LAUNCH OF THE
CUSTOMER ACTION CAMPAIGN FOR LOWER ELECTRIC RATES
Last week, the Administrative Law Judges spoke loud and clear. And the recommendations they made to the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission (PUC) were both good news and bad news for local electric customers.
First, the good news. The Judges stopped the Duquesne Light (DQE)/Allegheny Power (APS) merger, unless the Companies can prove in the next 18 months that the merger won't harm customers' rights to a truly competitive electric marketplace. They cut 85% 1.3 Billion dollars out of Allegheny Power's so-called stranded costs. The Judge's recommendation that Duquesne Light sell all of its generating plants has the potential to reduce that "stranded costs" burden significantly. This could all lead to more competition, and lower prices for consumers.
But there was also bad news. The Judges failed to recommend any guaranteed rate cuts, even though Duquesne Light customers pay 38% above the national average for electricity. Despite the law being clear that the costs of moving from monopoly to a competitive market must be fair to both the Companies and their rate payers, the Judges decision could make customers pay the entire bill, while the Companies get a free ride. The Judges failed to recommend that the Companies make much needed improvements to their low-income customer assistance programs. And the Judges failed to protect the health and safety of our citizens by not approving critical environmental safeguards and programs.
Normally, the next step is that all the parties involved in these cases including the people here today submit legal documents to oppose the portions of the Judges' recommendations which with they disagree. Certainly, every organization represented here will be doing that. And you can be sure that the Companies' hordes of attorneys are working right now on their exceptions. And after the exceptions and exceptions to the exceptions are filed, the PUC Commissioners make their decisions on April 30.
But these are not normal times. Billions of dollars are riding on this decision, and we know that the Companies will be lobbying the PUC fast and furious, in every way possible.
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So to level the playing field just a little today we are launching the Customer Action Campaign for Lower Rates.
Our Customer Action Campaign will provide a voice for the average customer in the PUC process. We will counter the high priced lobbyists with the folks who pay the electric bills. We will bring the fresh air of democracy to the stale air of the PUC's inner sanctums.
Our Campaign has five major components:
· Today, we have begun a major radio advertising campaign to urge people to join the fight for lower rates Ύ to take action. Citizens should demand that the PUC: grant a guaranteed rate cut of 21%, protect the environment and expand low-income assistance programs. The PUC should also require the Companies to abide by the law and shoulder their fair share of the "stranded cost" burden, not continue as they have taking money from Western Pennsylvania consumers and using it for investments overseas;
· We will be launching a professional telephone canvass to reach consumers who might not hear the advertising campaign;
· All of the groups here today as official Public Interest Intervenors in the legal cases will file exceptions to the Judges' recommendations on April 14. We will be urging the PUC to stop the merger, slash so-called stranded costs, and create an electric marketplace that protects both the wallets and the health of all consumers;
· All of the groups here today will be activating their own members and supporters to call on the PUC to do the right thing; and
· We are urging local municipalities to pass resolutions supporting our campaign, and to activate their citizens in support.
Representatives of the Public Interest Intervenors are here today to speak about their vision of how electric competition can protect both the wallets and the health of Pennsylvanians. Speakers and their organizations include Peter Wray of the Sierra Club, Sue Seppi of the Group Against Smog and Pollution (GASP), Peter Harvey of Just Harvest, Paul Lodico of the Mon Valley Unemployed Committee and Myron Arnowitt of Clean Water Action.
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