U.P. group seeks energy law changes

Legislators asked for assistance

MARQUETTE — A community group based in Germfask, members of which are also Upper Peninsula Power Co. customers, has asked state legislators to push for energy law changes they say would reduce residential rates for UPPCO customers and give Upper Peninsula utility customers a greater voice with the state commission responsible for overseeing investor-owned utilities.

New energy regulations are currently pending before the Michigan House of Representatives, though it remains uncertain whether the House will take any action before the legislative term ends Thursday.

The community group’s proposal includes several amendments, one of which requires that utilities serving between 50,000 and 100,000 customers do not set rates for any specific customer class that exceed 150 percent of the utility’s average kilowatt-hour rate.

Another amendment would require the Michigan Public Service Commission — which oversees investor-owned utilities and approves rate requests — to hold a public hearing in the service territory of a utility seeking new rates to allow residential customers the opportunity to express their opinions in person to the commission.

“Currently, aggrieved ratepayers must travel all the way to Lansing to attend such a public hearing,” a press release from the community group states.

Gary Talarico, a spokesman for the group, said the proposed amendments “would dramatically improve the plight of thousands of U.P. electric customers.”

Earlier this year, Talarico was involved with a dispute over electric rates imposed by UPPCO on Germfask Township ratepayers.

Many members of the community expressed dissatisfaction with the utility’s self-implemented 6.02 percent rate increase, which went into effect in March.

An order from the Michigan Public Service Commission in September then resulted in an increase of about 65 cents per month to the average residential customer over what they were paying since March, according to UPPCO documents.