Utah needs energy competition

By By Zach Edmunds

By Zach Edmunds

Rocky Mountain Power is responsible for providing power to 725,525 residences in Utah, according to the company’s Web site. It has a monopoly in this state, and except for a few cities such as Murray and Bountiful which help subsidize their energy needs, Rocky Mountain Power provides electricity for all customers along the Wasatch Front without any competition.

The only reason Rocky Mountain Power is allowed to operate as a monopoly is because of the Utah Public Service Commission, the regulatory agency responsible for being the conduit between the customer and Rocky Mountain Power.

Rocky Mountain Power has been in the headlines lately for its proposed rate increases on customers. The company is required by law to petition the Utah Public Service Commission for any rate increases and are held to whatever rate increases the commission will allow. In December 2007, Rocky Mountain Power asked for an 11 percent increase that would have meant an additional $160 million a year in revenue.

Through negotiations, the Utah Public Service Commission determined that the increase should be $36 million, or a 2.6 percent increase.

Determining these rate increases involves a series of meetings with customers ranging from residential to big businesses like Kennecott Utah Copper which use extraordinary amounts of energy, according to Julie Orchard, a spokeswoman for the Utah Public Service Commission.

Orchard said the commission stands behind the rate increase recommendation.

The scariest part for customers is what the power company has threatened to do or not do when it comes to its services. Rocky Mountain Power put out a press release after receiving approval for the increase mentioning a few of the things that customers can now come to expect: longer wait times after power shortages unless there is immediate danger to customers, the discontinuation of research for cleaner and better burning coal and a review of whether or not it will continue to donate to charitable organizations.

When the power is out, you can now expect it to be out longer. This obviously has complications for customers with medical issues who have machines that run with electricity.

Stopping research for cleaner and better burning coal is another setback. It’s alarming for customers to know the company has sufficed with providing energy and is not looking for ways to better serve its customers. In the long run this decision will come back to haunt Rocky Mountain Power, especially if a Cap and Trade policy is implemented.

Reviewing whether or not it has money to give to philanthropist organizations is another alarming change. Hopefully that statement is not an indirect way of saying they will forgo giving back to the community to cut costs. This, of all three major cuts, seems just like sour grapes from a company throwing a fit.

These new procedures have to worry customers. Rate increases are bound to happen, but if the Utah Public Service Commission determined a 2.6 percent increase was adequate, then it begs the question: why did Rocky Mountain Power ask for so much more than that? Obviously businesses are out to make money and Rocky Mountain Power is within its rights to make cuts. However, to hold service, cleanliness and philanthropy hostage unless it gets exactly what it wants is unreasonable.

Competition, in terms of another provider, would bring better prices and service. Utahns need another electricity provider and deserve a choice when it comes to this crucial service.

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