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Commission to decide whether to pass utility savings on to Oklahoma customers

OKLAHOMA CITY – The Oklahoma Cooperation Commission is considering five motions to reduce customer rates from the state’s leading utility companies.

The motions regarding Oklahoma Gas & Electric, Public Service Company of Oklahoma, Oklahoma Natural Gas, CenterPoint Energy, and Arkansas Oklahoma Gas were filed by Oklahoma Attorney General Mike Hunter on Dec. 22 when an overhaul of federal income taxes was signed into law.

Taking effect Jan. 1, the new law lowered the highest corporate income tax rate from 35 percent to 21 percent.

At a hearing on Thursday morning, officials from Hunter's office presented the argument that the five companies would save about $100 million annually under the new law. This would not include additional savings from other affected utility accounts.

Since the companies will be saving so much, Hunter has requested customer rates be reduced by an amount reflecting lower federal corporate income tax rates.

"The administrative law judge recommended today to the Commission that the Commission grant the Attorney General's motion request for the protection customer savings," said Deputy Attorney General Dara Derryberry. "Because this law became effective January 1, every day that the commission delays in granting the relief that the attorney general has requested, customers are losing the benefit of those savings that the law has afforded them."

It's a move AARP supports.

"We know utility costs are just skyrocketing for folks," said AARP Oklahoma director Sean Voskuhl. "This is an extreme pocket-book issue for thousands of Oklahomans, not only for older Oklahomans but other Oklahomans, and I think having a strong consumer voice is really important."

Curtis Long, an attorney representing CenterPoint Oklahoma, said the company recognized the new law would reduce the tax burden and financial benefits must be passed through to customers.

However, the company argued the motion filed in December failed to provide sufficient notice. They claimed the most efficient path forward is utilizing the existing Performance Based Rate Change (PRBC) review process. According to Long, the next PRBC review filing is scheduled for March 15 with new rates already expected to be in place by July 1.

"If this motion is granted, will the Commission also entertain future requests by other applicants for 'immediate' rate adjustments based on any change in a single significant cost or revenue item?" read a filed response to the AG's motion. ​

Aside from the initial recommendations, no final decisions were made Thursday.