Environment

State utility regulators don’t have enough commissioners to oversee the $2.8 billion sale of Kentucky Power after senators failed to confirm commissioner Amy Cubbage on the last day of the legislative session.

It was the second time in two months the state senate failed to confirm Gov. Andy Beshear’s picks for the three-person utility regulators board — leaving Chairman Kent Chandler as the sole commissioner serving on the state’s Public Service Commission. 

A spokesperson for Beshear said politics got in the way of the appointments, and the governor is looking for qualified people to appoint to the commission. 

By refusing to confirm two of the three members of the commission, the General Assembly has caused and will again cause significant disruption and delay to critical cases,” said Crystal Staley in a statement. 

The Public Service Commission declined to comment, deferring to the governor’s office. 

Back in February, Republican Senate President Robert Stivers of Manchester told senators that he would not be voting to confirm Marianne Butler to the Public Service Commission. He said several people had reached out to him with concerns the commission had become dysfunctional. Her confirmation failed on a 26-9 vote. 

The Public Service Commission is responsible for overseeing most of the state’s utilities including electricity, gas, some water and telecommunications. Late last year, Chandler testified the agency doesn’t have the staff or resources to manage its workload, and now there aren’t enough members on the commission to make decisions. 

Cubbage served on the commission for almost nine months before senators chose not to confirm her to the position. In a statement on Twitter, Cubbage said she was disappointed and concerned that the commission lacked a quorum given that it’s supposed to act on the sale of Kentucky Power in the next two weeks.

“Even if a new commissioner is appointed, he or she will have to digest thousands of pages of filings and will lack the benefit of participating in the recent hearing,” Cubbage said. “The citizens and ratepayers of Eastern Kentucky deserve better.”

Kentucky Power serves around 165,000 ratepayers in 20 counties in Eastern Kentucky. Ratepayers have struggled to afford the utility’s rising prices in recent years, particularly amid rising fuel prices last winter

Liberty Utilities, which owns 30 utilities across 13 states, has offered to purchase Kentucky Power for $2.846 billion and is willing to assume more than $1.2 billion in debt. 

Liberty has promised to reduce ratepayers’ bills by 14% to 16%, and won’t seek further rate increases through 2023. But the sale can’t go through without the Public Service Commission’s approval. 

 

Ryan Van Velzer is WFPL's Energy and Environment Reporter.