Newspaper article THE JOURNAL RECORD

Bell Calls Refund Ruling Chaotic

Newspaper article THE JOURNAL RECORD

Bell Calls Refund Ruling Chaotic

Article excerpt

Chaos will result in the entire public utility industry in Oklahoma if a State Corporation Commission order putting Southwestern Bell Telephone Co. earnings subject to refund is allowed to stand, Bell attorney Andy Coats said Thursday.

A special attorney for the commission and an assistant Oklahoma attorney general argued, however, the agency's duty to protect ratepayers from excessive charges is as strong as its power to protect utilities through interim rate making.

"This will impact us and any other utility trying to operate in Oklahoma," Coats argued before Oklahoma Supreme Court Senior Referee Wayne Snow.

"OG&E (Oklahoma Gas & Electric Co.) is right behind us with a similar situation. It is a matter of public importance. When you place rates subject to refund, that's retroactive rate making. That will cause chaos within the industry." Southwestern Bell's rates have been under review at the commission for more than two years.

On April 19, the commission put Southwestern Bell on notice that it may have to refund earnings in excess of an 11.41 percent return on equity rate, primarily at the request of the Oklahoma Attorney General's Office.

It is currently set at 14.25 percent. On Wednesday, the commission issued an order putting OG&E on notice that it may have to refund earnings in excess of a 12.75 rate of return on equity. It is currently set at 13.5 percent.

Tens of millions of dollars is estimated to be at stake cumulatively.

OG&E attorneys attended the conference Thursday and likely will be filing a request for the commission to reconsider its decision, depending on the outcome of the Southwestern Bell case. A request for reconsideration by the commission usually precedes a request for the high court to hear the case.

Commissioner Bob Anthony also attended the conference.

In general, Southwestern Bell asserts the commission's action overstepped the bounds of its authority. …

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