By Dave Donaldson
A bill ready to be introduced to the legislature for consideration this year would prevent utilities from billing customers for losses due to the company’s own negligence, recklessness or violation of the law. It is a response to Enstar Natural Gas Company’s decision to charge users for the money it needed to reimburse Fort Richardson after discovering a six million dollar billing error.
Anchorage’s Bill Wielechowski (will-uh-KOW-skee), sponsor of the Senate version of the bill, says the measure only puts into law what should be common sense.
This is something that is so understood all throughout the state of Alaska, all throughout the entire country.
The rate increase is now before the Regulatory Commission of Alaska – although Enstar has been allowed an interim rate increase until a final decision is made. Wielechowski says with the bill, the company would not have been granted that temporary permission.
Les Gara, one of the sponsors of the House version of the bill, says legislators may hope that state statutes are written to avoid conflicts such as this. However, he says Enstar has argued the issue before the commission and is already billing the public for its error.
And that’s the dispute that’s going before the RCA right now. Enstar’s attorneys say No matter the conduct, they get to bill the public. We’re saying that if the attorneys are right, we need to fix the law. And in any case, it never hurts to clarify the law – and the law should be that you don’t get to bill somebody else for your misconduct if you’re a for-profit entity like Enstar.
Enstar spokesman John Sims says the company sees the bill as what he calls an inappropriate attempt to influence a decision pending before the Regulatory Commission. He says that decision was delayed by the Commission — originally set for last Friday, it is now expected March first.