Consumer uprising doesn’t seem likely

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Observers say the 9 percent increase in electricity rates won’t spark widespread outrage.

Orange County Register

When state regulators hiked electricity rates Thursday, consumer groups declared that the “ratepayer revolt begins today.”

Organizing that mutiny, however, could prove challenging.

While consumers seem concerned, observers say they may not be concerned enough to fight the 9 percent increase that for the average household will equal about $5 per month.

Even opponents of the increase acknowledge that it’s too nebulous to generate widespread outrage. But they warn that it opens the door for additional increases, and say consumers should remember how much, overall, they’re paying for the deregulation debacle.

That’s the strategy here, to make it seem modest enough that it’s reasonable,” said Doug Heller, spokesman with the Foundation for Taxpayers and Consumer Rights. None of it is reasonable.”

Heller said his office is receiving about 250 e-mails per day from angry utility customers. Nearly 2,000 people called, e-mailed or wrote the governor about energy issues this week. An additional 1,200 contacted Davis’ office during the last week of December, when state regulators held hearings on the rate-hike proposal. That number is considered high, the governor’s office said.

“When someone is going to be digging into their pockets, (consumers) become very quickly aware,” Heller said.

But consumer concern doesn’t necessarily translate into action, said Don Booth, professor of economics at Chapman University. Consumers tend to ignore small money problems, he said.

Nine percent (increase), they won’t even know the difference,” said Booth.

Most consumers asked about the hike said they’re upset, but won’t squawk too much if the increase is just 9 percent.

I guess in a world where there’s so many things to get worked up about, that’s something that doesn’t affect me too much,” said Mindy Nettiffee, 21, a Chapman University student who splits her $70 per month electric bill with four roommates.

Keith Neely, 67, and his wife Pat, 62, of Orange, said they’d need a 50 percent hike before they’d really fight back.

We don’t have an option; we just pay it,” Keith Neely said.

But some are concerned enough to act. Small-business owner Ruby Dorey said she will write or call the governor. She said she’s worried this will be the first of many increases.

I’m definitely going to worry about it,” said Dorey, owner of Ruby’s Antique Jewelry in Orange, who pays an average $100 per month bill. Something has to be done. They should do it now, and not wait until two years from now and we’re already seeing 75 percent increases.”

Heller said his group is telling consumers to contact their legislator and the governor.

Certainly, it has to be a top priority on our list, helping ang ry ratepayers organize their outrage at Gov. Davis and the Public Utilities Commission,” Heller said.

If lawmakers won’t reverse the hike, he said, the consumer group will consider a ballot initiative to undo the hike. The same group in 1988 successfully rallied voters to pass Proposition 103, the car-insurance rate rollback.

Consumer Watchdog
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