Lubbock citizens took to the streets Monday, protesting a sudden and dramatic increase in their electric bills.
A Lubbock musician named Randy Ziegler has even created a protest video.
There is a special called meeting of the utility board and the city council scheduled for 3 p.m. Monday where they will discuss LP&L's recent billing problems, customer service concerns, and increasing public outrage over the rate increase.
The protest is being held outside the LP&L building from 7:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. and the meeting is expected to be Standing Room Only.
Lubbock Mayor Glen Robertson sat down to discuss these issues with Sharon Maines on Daybreak Today Monday.
Robertson says two members of the utility board called for a special meeting to see what they can try to do to "ease the pain for the residents."
Thousands of Lubbock residents have complained about the rate increase, saying that their bills have doubled or even tripled this month.
The mayor says there are several factors at work:
1. LP&L says 44,000 customers were billed at the lower winter rate in June, making their July bills look even higher in contrast.
2. LP&L just started charging customers for 100 percent of their fuel cost, after undercharging for years.
3. The mayor says LP&L implemented their rate increase at "the worst possible time" - June 1st, which "hits people right as they go into the summer months and their electric use rises considerably.
The mayor was the only person on the city council who voted against the increase. Robertson wanted the increase to take effect in October, as the consultants had originally recommended.
So why did the rest of the city council vote in favor of it?
Robertson says they were acting on bad information:
"I think this council was misled by the staff at LP&L. The board at LP&L voted to increase the rates as recommended by the rate consultant, which would have been October 1. That's what their budget was figured on, that's what everything was figured on.
"Staff decided they wanted it early. That will get them an addition $5 to $8 million this fiscal year alone. I did ask council to consider not voting for this, to postpone it until October for several reasons:
"Number one, you cannot hit people with this type of increase in the middle of the summer. We have to give citizens a little time to budget when you're talking about a 10 percent increase, and this is a 10 percent increase that has hit people anywhere from 50 to 80 to 100 to 150 percent."
So what can people do if they can't afford to pay their bills? People say they are calling LP&L and not being given the option of any kind of payment plan, and next months, they'll probably be looking at high rates again...
The mayor says "That is one of the things the electric board will discuss today. I'm hearing the same calls and getting the same emails. LP&L is telling the citizens if you're having a problem we'll put you on a payment plan, but I'm getting calls that LP&L is telling us no, so I'm hopeful that this is one issue that the board will address today."
"We do have to remember that LP&L is managed by this appointed board, it is not managed by the council. So I as mayor and any other city councilperson has very little input," Robertson said.
So what's the chance of us having more than one utility company in the city again?
Robertson says "For that to happen we'd have to be deregulated by the state. Since LP&L bought Xcel, they bought all the transmission and distribution lines in the city of Lubbock, so no other power company right now would have the ability to come in and deliver electricity."
The mayor says "Deregulation has not worked in the rest of the state, it's actually caused prices to rise. So I'm not a proponent of deregulation, I just think we need to get our house in order with LP&L and we'll be fine."
But of course, this is just the first rate increase, and there are three more to come. Is there any chance those could be postponed?
"Those will have to come to city council on a vote each year. There were four rate increases proposed by the rate consultant. My main concern going forward is before this board or any future board recommends any additional rate increases to this council, I want to see them looking or at least start discussing trying to cut some expenditures.
"They just passed a $227 million budget without one question about any expenditures in that budget. That concerns me as much as anything, that you can ask for this type of increase and yet you're not willing to scrub your budget."
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