11/30/08 — Pikeville, Fremont electric rates going up

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Pikeville, Fremont electric rates going up

By Nick Hiltunen
Published in News on November 30, 2008 2:00 AM

Rates for ElectriCities members -- towns who are part of the public power co-operative -- will soon go up by an average of 4 percent.

In Wayne County, though, those rates affect just two groups of people: Fremont and Pikeville residents.

But how the ElectriCities rate increase will actually affect residents depends on how those town officials react.

If it's up to Commissioner Dennis Lewis, Pikeville's town budget will bear the burden of the higher rates, not the electricity customers.

"When I vote in January ... I'm not going to pass the increase on to the customers," Lewis said. "As far as I'm concerned, we're going to have to look at ways to save money."

In Fremont, there also are hopes that the town's budget may cushion the blow to individual subscribers to town electricity.

Fremont Town Administrator Kerrie McDuffie said the average increase for ElectriCities member towns is 4 percent, and Fremont's increase would be around 4.4 percent.

"I'm looking at some ways to try to keep from going up on our customers just yet," McDuffie said. "I'm going to try for us to dome things ... to allow us to absorb that amount in house.

"I don't know if it's going to be successful," McDuffie said.

Electrical infrastructure in both Pikeville and Fremont recently underwent major upgrades, replacing outdated equipment that was becoming expensive to patch with replacement parts.

Now, at least in Fremont, it's time to replace another part of that system -- the meters that gauge how much electricity a customer is using.

Fremont's town administrator says that meters in the town of about 1,500 are between 15 and 20 years old.

New technology in those meters could help buffer some costs related to electricity, the administrator said.

McDuffie wants to cut out the gas and personnel costs of meter reading with radio signals.

"Instead of us going around manually, going up to the electric meter and writing on a piece of paper, we'd replace the meter with one that emits a radio frequency.

"As they drive around the town, it'll pick up the radio signal ... and transfer it directly into a computer," McDuffie said.

He also explained that the older the meters are, the less accurate they become.

"By replacing our electric meter, you're going to start seeing a new reading," McDuffie said. "Some people will see an increase of the actual kilowatts (being used by) ... their house."

McDuffie is worried that may cause "sticker shock" for some electricity customers, but added that accurate readings are fairer to everyone.

In Pikeville, though, the increase is just going to be something to get used to, as Lewis said that from his understanding, the town is committed to ElectriCities for at least 20 more years, because it did not "opt out" in 2002. That decision not to opt out started another 30-year contract, Lewis said.

"We're in the peak right now -- we owe $5.5 million to get out of ElectriCities," Lewis said. "We would have to write them a check for $5.5 million."

He added, "The cost of electricity: it's killing Pikeville. What do businesses look for? Low utilities and low taxes. Pikeville doesn't have either."