John Daley Reporting
Utah Power wants a record rate hike, but consumers say they're already feeling the pinch. They want a 17% increase to help pay for what the company call a "vigorous construction program."
Joyce Bartlett, Utah Power Customer: "I think everybody is after us. I mean there's kids losing their homes, they can't pay their gas bills, they can't pay their light bills. I just don't see the need for all this."
The utility says the state of Utah is booming. More people living here, more homes and businesses needing more and more power, and to meet that demand, more infrastructure, power plants, and distribution.
Call it the one-two punch. On the heels of a 38% Questar natural gas rate increase, Utah Power is now asking for a record 17% rate hike. Some, like Joyce and Richard Bartlett, a couple on fixed income, say for average folks, utility bills are beginning to put the squeeze on.
Joyce Bartlett, Utah Power Customer: "It's frustrating. You want to just call up and scream at 'em and say, 'Hey, leave us alone.'"
Richard Bartlett, Utah Power Customer: "And Medicare has gone up. They got us at the fuel pump, now they got us at natural gas. Now when you go from room to room, you turn a light off behind you."
If passed, a typical electric bill would rise $10 a month, $120 a year. Utah Power says due to the state's robust growth, in recent years it has had to provide power to upwards of 18,000 new customers. Increased use is also driven by things like central air conditioning, which uses about three times the energy a swamp cooler does.
Dave Eskelsen, Utah Power Spokesman: "We have been in the midst of an intensive capitol investment program. New power plants, transmission, distribution, we've got to generate the power, we've got deliver the power. All of our customers at all levels are using more."
Also, the utility says it's spending 115 million dollars annually to upgrade its Utah distribution system, and is pushing conservation. But the Bartletts, for one, say their costs are too high.
Richard Bartlett: "What they're gonna make us do is go back to the old days with a kerosene lamp and candle to read by. So there's got to be an end to it. Really, I think, and I'm going to complain to the Public Service Commission and complain again."
Mid America Energy is the process of buying Utah Power's parent company, Pacificorp. The head of the state committee of consumer services is strongly urging the new owners to do a full review of Scottish Power's filing and make every effort to bring it down to a more reasonable request.