July 18. 2107- by John Blair, valleywatch.net editor (disclaimer- I own 198 shares of Vectren stock (VVC)
One would think that a major electric utility that can afford to pay its CEO almost $6 million per year and charges among the highest rates in the nation, would at least do well in “customer satisfaction.” Not so with Vectren Corporation, which ranked third from last in the J.D. Power 2017 Electric Utility Residential Customer Satisfaction Study. http://www.jdpower.com/press-releases/jd-power-2017-electric-utility-residential-customer-satisfaction-study
Already Vectren has huge electric rates for their residential customers that must subsidize the rates of large industrial customers as CEO Carl Chapman has stated to me personally, “our industrial rates are competitive.”
I responded, “Well, that pisses me off since myself and lots of other people struggle just to pay your high residential rates.”
Should I call it a subsidy? Vectren would likely say no but that is what it is residential customers pay just to have their meter read and lines maintained. Currently, they pay upwards of $.12/kilowatt hour, about twice what industrial customers pay. When the “Fixed Charge” is added in their rates can go as high as $1/kWh as happened at the Valley Watch office last month because we do everything we can to conserve and only used 18 kW but had a bill over $20 on our three phase meter that heats and cools our office.
Presently, Valley Watch and the Citizens Action Coalition are engaged in an effort to mitigate Vectren’s latest rip-off, a $514 million rate increase that will fall mainly on residential and small commercial customers due to a $13+ increase in the Fixed Charge which together with absorbent usage charges could make Vectren the highest ratepayers outside Hawaii in the nation. And for what? Updated, new and Mercedes style infrastructure that is hard to prove is even needed. Of course, Vectren claims that it is for safety and reliability.
CAC and Valley Watch have presented testimony in our challenge to their current increase which will most likely be ignored by the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission since Vectren and the “official agency” The Office of Utility Consumer Counselor that is supposed to represent customer’s interests have already “agreed” on a settlement and did so prior to even hearing testimony from the public at the sham public hearing held May 2 in Evansville.
Sadly, there was a bill, Senate Enrolled Act 560, passed in 2013 in the Indiana Legislature that pretty much gave Vectren and all the other “investor owned utilities” in the state near absolute power to spend whatever they choose and immediately require their customers to pay for it along with a handsome profit of over 10% on their investment even though they are a Monopoly with ZERO competition.
So the bottom line is this. As long as the people of this region stay out of the way and don’t make waves, Vectren and their execs will do just fine. So will that 198 shares I personally own.
But here’s the deal, when I moved here in 1974, Evansville had a middle class population of 142,000 people. I think we were even growing then. Now we have around 115,000 residents and also have some of the highest utility rates in the nation with higher and higher rates of poverty. Couple those facts with the fact the Evansville will also have amongst the highest sewer rates in the nation and who, except for those fortunate prosperous few will be able to afford to live here?
People struggle to find jobs that pay more than the minimum wage or just above but due to high utility rates those cheap rents we have always depended on will be meaningless. In more progressive and prosperous communities, people are willing to pay higher rates for nearly everything because those communities offer amenities that make living easier and more attractive. Meanwhile we rank high on the “miserable and obesity scales” Just this week, CNBC published a survey that showed Indiana to be the 6th worst state to live in. At least we beat Kentucky which ranked at the very bottom. http://www.cnbc.com/2017/07/11/americas-10-worst-states-to-live-in-2017.html
All along, the people of this region have been told that “coal is cheap” and we cannot afford to use renewable energy like wind and solar because they are just too expensive. But that is a lie. Coal is extremely expensive and cannot compete with renewables any longer. It must also be understood that burning coal has a huge price for area residents in health and environmental costs which are completely left out of every equation. Cancer, stroke, heart attacks, asthma, COPD, scarred earth and dirty communities are what we have to show off.
Our whole area wrestles continuously with trying to attract new industry. What do we get? More power plants, maybe a coal mine or two and now the rage is fertilizer plants in Rockport and Mt. Vernon that first must make the ingredients of dynamite to finish their dangerous product line. Valley Watch is also engaged in those battles and may very well win.
But why is it, except for Toyota, we can only attract dirty polluting industry to our midst? Could it be that most decent CEOs do not wish to send their friends and key employees into and area that has been so willing to foul their own nest that has become one of the toxic hot spots in the nation? Oops, we better keep that quiet or maybe Evansville population will reduce even further.
At this point, with the Trump Administration seeking to roll back all the progress we have made to clean the air and make our water safe to drink. We have had significant progress, our air is usually safer to breathe now and our water treatment plant is very capable of delivering relatively safe water, although I do filter my drinking water to make sure.
It is hard to predict what the future will hold. But one thing is certain, if we collectively sit back and do nothing but observe, failing to engage polluters and greeds when they demand too much from us, our only real growth industry will be healthcare which sadly few Evansvillians will be able to afford. Especially after Trumpcare eliminates Medicaid for millions, including thousands in Evansville and surroundings.
John Blair is the volunteer President of Valley Watch, Inc. and earns his living as a Pulitzer Prize winning freelance photographer. He can be reached at Blair@valleywatch.net