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Huntsville Utilities holds public meeting in advance of rate hike request

HUNTSVILLE, Ala. - Huntsville Utilities presented an electric rate increase proposal to the Huntsville City Council during the month of January.

Monday was one of four opportunities customers have to comment on the proposed 2.75% electric rate hike. The other three options are during scheduled Huntsville City Council meetings and work sessions.

The 2.75% increase is across the board, for all customers. It applies to consumption and also availability fees. For residents, the fixed availability fee increases by $0.29 and the average bill would increase by $4.00.

Huntsville Utilities executives argue costs to operate their systems are rising and they need to supplement rising costs and a growing community's needs with additional funding. But some community members said they're still worried.

One woman asked for executives to keep those with fixed incomes in mind.

"For the elderly people, we got a big raise on social security," she said sarcastically, ".03%. And we really didn't get anything because our Medicaid went up."

"It's killing people like me," another man explained about his own needs with social security. "It's been cold. It's been really cold." He said he anticipates his regular bill, even without the increase, to be difficult to pay.

Others said they fear increases but they like the level of service to remain good. That's why they can justify paying the extra cost.

"[After doing the math] the $2.57 it would cost me is a reasonable increase to make sure that service continues, and I appreciate Huntsville Utilities," one man said.

Customers will also be allowed to voice their opinions during the Huntsville City Council Meetings and Work Session scheduled for January 12, 19 and 26. Each of those meeting begins at 6:00 p.m. All four meetings will be held in the Huntsville City Council Chambers in City Hall.

This will be the second time int he past year that Huntsville Utilities has come to the council asking for an electric rate increase. Last April's attempt failed after a council vote. The council asked the company to come back and present a new plan that was spread across all rate classes and considers the impact on low income ratepayers, and Huntsville Utilities representatives say that's what this new plan does. They argue if you'd like to reduce your bill, you can still reduce your consumption.

If implemented during a January 26 vote, the increases would take effect in February.

If it's not implemented, Huntsville Utilities representatives say they may not be able to do all the projects they're planning.

"One of them that comes right off the top of my head is a substation for the Madison hospital," said Joe Gehrdes, Director of Communication. "We won't be able to proceed with that project without the funding in place."

Representatives from Energy Alabama, Nexus Energy Center and the Association of Energy Engineers Huntsville Chapter plan to be at each of the meetings.

“We understand that rates need to be raised from time to time especially if much of the increase will be used for better technology such as smart meters,”  said Daniel Tait, CEO of Energy Alabama.

They say they plan to advocate for more energy efficiency and access to renewable energy.

“We look forward to hearing about the needs of Huntsville Utilities and how they plan to fairly and equitably apply these rate increases” said Tait.

Huntsville Utilities provides electric service to more than 182,000 customers.