OKLAHOMA CITY (KFOR) – The Oklahoma Supreme Court ruled it is constitutional for OG&E to use approximately $800 million in state-sold bonds to cover additional costs caused by the 2021 winter storm, but lambasted Oklahoma Attorney General John O’Connor for not protecting consumers.
The state’s high court ruled on the matter on Tuesday.
Justice Douglas Combs filed a concurring opinion that included sharp criticism of O’Connor.
“I write separately, however, to express my frustrations and concerns about the Act’s limitations on our review process and the Attorney General’s lack of meaningful participation at all stages of this rate-related proceeding,” Combs wrote.
Combs went on to say that O’Connor did not adequately represent utility consumers or protect their interests.
“Of more grave concern to me, however, is the Attorney General’s abdication of his duties to OG&E’s consumers in this action. The Attorney General has a statutory duty ‘as the chief law officer of the state . . . [t]o represent and protect the collective interests of all utility consumers of this state in rate-related proceedings before the Corporation Commission,'” Combs said.
Combs said O’Connor failed OG&E customers in critical junctures of the process that led to the Oklahoma Corporation Commission giving OG&E the greenlight to collect additional moneys from its customers.
“The utility consumers that the Attorney General should be representing have effectively been left without representation. Their access to counsel lies with the Attorney General. Yet he has failed them,” Combs said. “The lack of meaningful participation at the settlement stage, the failure to file an appeal of the Corporation Commission’s financing order, and the decision not to intervene in this proceeding leaves this Court with no input from the utility consumers’ statutorily appointed counsel and with few options when it comes to reviewing the ODFA’s application to approve the bonds. Thus, despite my reservations, the record before us leads me to concur in the limited holdings contained in our opinion.”
The Corporation Commission and OG&E settled on a plan in December for ratepayers to pay back the estimated $760 million the company incurred during the February 2021 winter storm.
The Oklahoma Development Finance Authority asked the Supreme Court to approve issuance of ratepayer-backed bonds established by the February 2021 Regulated Utility Consumer Protection Act to cover debts OG&E incurred from the unprecedented fuel costs caused by the winter weather event.
OG&E ratepayers would then fund the bond payments through a monthly charge.
The plan’s opponents said the companies were not being transparent and customers are footing too much of the bill.
Many Oklahomans protested and multiple lawsuits were filed to challenge the plan.
The legislature passed bills in April 2021, essentially backing bonds that will allow customers to pay smaller amounts over a longer span of time.
If the $760 million sum was spread out to customers, the average house hold would pay a one-time charge of more than $450, according to Corporation Commission figures.
But the average customer pays just over $2/a month over 28 years with the securitization bond plan.
Justice Dustin Rowe also filed a concurring opinion, saying those who opposed the plan raised legitimate questions regarding O’Connor’s inaction on the matter. He noted protestor Porter H. Davis’ issue with O’Connor’s notice of non-intervention.
“Davis claims that by declining to weigh in on these matters, the Attorney General has not only failed to represent the interests of ratepayers but also inadvertently advanced the interests of parties adverse to ratepayers,” Rowe said.
Not enough was done to address the concerns of utility customers, Rowe wrote in his opinion.
“I must say, however, I find it hard to reconcile that our statutorily-mandated pre-approval of the bonds in this matter–which cannot touch on substantive questions raised by the Protestors–serves to foreclose the right of these individuals and others in the future to challenge the legitimacy of the bonds or to raise any other valid legal issue,” Rowe said. “These consequences should not be taken lightly when the effect of our ruling will be to irrevocably saddle many Oklahomans with a significant financial obligation for the next twenty-eight years–and to establish additional precedent for future bond approvals.”