HARRISBURG, Pa. (WHTM) – The Public Utility Commission’s hearing room in Harrisburg was empty Wednesday.
The crowds aren’t much bigger when the PUC actually opens the doors for public hearings.
In an attempt to boost participation, the PUC got a bright idea called Smart Hearing. If people won’t come to them, they’ll go to the people – electronically. Just click on the Smart Hearing icon on the PUC’s website.
“Folks can watch a public hearing live stream on a computer,” PUC Commissioner Pamela Witmer said. “They can even call in questions live over their phones. They’re sitting in their family room, their kitchen, wherever. So we’re trying to increase transparency in the process and access and availability.”
The first Smart Hearings are June 2 and 4 and will address PPL’s requested rate increase. It wants to hike a fixed distribution cost from $14.13 a month to $20. It would raise just over $167 million for the company, most of which would go to equipment.
PPL has been upgrading infrastructure across its territory, which isn’t cheap.
“We’re sensitive to the fact that people don’t like to pay more for anything,” PPL spokesman Paul Wirth told ABC27 last month, “but everything has gone up over the last three years and so has our costs.”
But critics say PPL is asking for too much.
“On its face, the company has not fully justified the amount of the rate increase that they’ve requested,” Acting Pennsylvania Consumer Advocate Tanya McCloskey said.
The PUC will ultimately decide if PPL gets an increase and, if so, how much of a hike it will get. Before it does, the PUC wants to know what you think? How would a rate hike affect businesses and residents? It’s hoping you will weigh in via Smart Hearing. The last time PPL requested a rate hike in 2012, the PUC held five public hearings across the state and only 13 people total bothered to show up.
“It is difficult for folks,” Witmer said. “They’re very busy in their daily lives so we’re tyring to make it easier for people to participate. The information that people want to give us is valuable and important. We just want to make it easier for them to get it to us.”
Smart Hearing is a pilot project. Anyone can listen in to the proceedings, but to call in and participate you must pre-register by next Tuesday, May 26.