BWL Defends Proposed Rate Hike

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One vote by the Lansing Board of Water and Light Commissioners, and customers may be paying more for their utilities. It's something City Council members say customers are not prepared for after December's ice storm.

"The rate increase proposal is too soon, the transparency and trust and communication hasn't been rebuilt yet," said City Council President A'Lynne Boles, at a quarterly meeting between the council and BWL's board.

Commissioners have given the initial okay to the proposed rate hike, increasing electric bills by almost five percent. That would bring the company an extra $8 million in net income each year. Now it's down to a public hearing on the issue, then BWL's board will have a final vote in September.

"We've had two full years without a rate increase so 4.88 increase seems to be appropriate at least to the staff and management," said BWL General Manager Peter Lark.

The utility says it needs the money to maintain services and pay for changes made after the storm.

"To make our systems better we've had to hire more people of course that costs money," Lark said.

Reasons council members want the utility to make clear to customers.

"Perception becomes reality and I think you need to do a much better job explaining why these rate increases are coming," said Jody Washington, who represents the first ward.

From adding tree cutters to improving call centers, BWL has made almost 100 changes since the storm.

"We can assure our customers that our response will be much more vigorous and we'll be able to get their power on better and sooner than we did before," Chairman of the BWL Board of Commissioners David Price said.

But getting customers to understand that is the next challenge.

"I think there's a long road ahead of the BWL with it's customers because that trust base must be repaired and/or built at this point," said Boles, who represents the third ward.

She thinks it will take at least two years for the utility to earn back public trust.

The board says it's committed to being transparent with customers and hopes to improve communication before the public hearing.

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