OKLAHOMA CITY (KFOR) – Confusion hung in the air at another scheduled public meeting of the Oklahoma Corporation Commission, as the hearing’s participants expressed more frustration around confusing communication and an unexpected development.
“I had to change the schedule around…I’m not paid to be here,” said Lonnie Corder-Agnew, joining the meeting by Zoom to comment.
Members representing the Oklahoma Corporation Commission, OG&E, the community and an administrative judge assigned to the case were also present at the meeting.
According to OG&E, the proposed rate hike of nine percent, or roughly $10 dollars, a month is expected to aid the public utility in its efforts to modernize the system and provide a sustained service offering with fewer interruptions.
“I had signed up to speak yesterday, and I went to look for the email that was supposed to send me the link and saw nothing,” she added, noting that she believed the meeting should have occurred on Monday instead.
Speaking to the room, Corder-Agnew thanked the room for hearing her out before launching into several utility and customer service complaints directed at OG&E, while citing the currently tight economic landscape across the county, state and nation advancing the proposed rate increases.
An OCC representative addressed the communication breakdown with KFOR following Tuesday’s meeting.
“I need to look into that to see what happened. But that was very much an error,” said OCC spokesman Matt Skinner in the interview.
“There’s just no doubt about it, because we did have a hearing on the date that was mentioned in that email, but it was not a hearing that dealt with the opportunity rate case,” he added, promising to probe the matter further.
“I’m a retired teacher,” countered Lonnie during her public comments. “Don’t tell me about communication problems.”
Skinner said pertinent communication about the Corporation Commission is usually posted to the home page, the Corporation Commission’s homepage, and up-to-date information on hearings is placed in a box at the top.
Skinner also states that additional instructions on how to deliver or file public comments are also posted.
Physically in attendance at Tuesday’s hearing, Steve Goldman, a member of VOICE, a coalition of groups that have come together to advocate for Oklahoma City-area residents, said the announcement about a potential joint settlement for the rate case came as a surprise.
“We’re seeing once again the secret negotiations between members of the Corporation Commission and the Attorney General and the utility seem to come to an agreement just before public comment,” he said to KFOR immediately following the hearing.
“Suddenly this morning, it was announced that there was some deal done in the background and that we should go look at it. But how is anybody to know that if they weren’t at this meeting,” he added.
“With a rate case, there is always built into the schedule an opportunity for the parties to try to reach a compromise agreement, which would then be presented to the commissioners. That is called a proposed joint stipulation,” explained Skinner.
“That stipulation, that proposal, has to be made public [and] it has to be heard in public,” he added.
“Utility cases cost money to file and to hear, and so, obviously, if the parties can reach a compromise which shortens the schedule to the case, that’s a preferred outcome,” said Skinner.
In a new statement to KFOR, OG&E said:
“OG&E appreciates the importance of the Oklahoma Corporation Commission’s transparent and inclusive public input process. Our regulatory team will continue to review public comments made at today’s hearing, as well as public comments filed as the rate review process continues.”Aaron Cooper, Corporate Communications Manager for OG&E
“The same thing happened with the big freeze securitization as well. So we’re very concerned about whether public comment makes any difference to the politicians we elect,” countered Goldman.
As the lone advocate in the room at the end of Tuesday’s hearing, Goldman vowed to stay on task for other concerned members of the community.
“We’ll [VOICE] meet with our churches and community groups and listen to the concerns of the people who pay off each month and see what they want,” he said.
“Frankly, I’m here because of a problem I shouldn’t have to worry about,” Lonnie continued, citing medical and cost implications she and her husband have incurred due to interruptions in their service.
“If OG&E can’t meet its contractual obligations to provide reliable power at a reasonable price, I propose that it be replaced with a company that can.”
An additional hearing has now been calendared for June 27 and will include another opportunity for public comment.