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June 13, 2010 - Ray Hall (Archive)
If past is prologue Jamestown’s Board of Public Utilities needn’t fret over New York State’s Public Service Commission granting another rate increase for its electric division. The PSC boasts of ensuring safe, reliable service and just rates since its inception at the beginning of the twentieth century and its our fault if we think of it strictly as a consumer protection agency.

The JBPU can make a good enough paper case to justify a rate increase and for those consumers who are looking for the PSC to step in and demand accountability—forget it—that’s the job of City Council and we know how busy they are. However, before the PSC grants a rate hike there are a few answers that ought to be penciled in somewhere for the public to hunt for—like a scavenger hunt for rate payers.

There is an item on our electric bill each month called a Fuel Adjustment Charge that on my bills over the past year has ranged from slightly less than ten dollars to almost thirty dollars—maybe more, I didn’t look at all of them. By its title one would assume that the fuel adjustment charge has something to do with the costs of coal or natural gas to generate electricity, or transportation charges for electricity to get from Niagara Hydro to Jamestown.

However, if memory serves me, and it does—the Public Service Commission in ensuring us—the rate payers, customers—safe, reliable service with just rates allowed the JBPU to add a few miscellaneous charges each month to the fuel adjustment charge. Way back when—you know, before Oxy-Coal, when the existing plant was going to be torn down and replaced with a new coal fluidized bed plant that was all the rage at the time. Then our JBPU asked for and New York’s PCS agreed that whatever it cost to tear down the old plant could be added to our monthly Fuel Adjustment Charge.

Just using the calculator that pops up on my computer—you know the one that uses the star to multiply and a backslash to divide—I calculated that the JBPU could easily raise $4 million dollars a year--$16 million in four years. That leads to more than one obvious question:

Now that the Federal Government has rejected our half a billion dollar Oxy-Clean Coal plant are we still going to tear down the old plant?

Why can’t we use that $16 million to offset a rate increase?

Was that Fuel Adjustment charge earmarked for that specific reason or did the JBPU have discretion in spending that money on, lets say lobbyists?

Perhaps we can save Governor Patterson’s visit to Jamestown—you know the visit where he was escorted to a small island in the middle of the Chadakoin River safely out of reach of the press and protestors and where he gave the Mayor and the JBPU six million dollars. Gees, that makes twenty-two million dollars we could use to offset a rate hike.


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