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AARP: Avista rate hikes could harm elderly

| June 30, 2010 7:53 AM

BOISE — While soaring temperatures this summer find most Idahoans reaching for the air-conditioner, soaring utility bills and proposed rate hikes may soon find older residents struggling between their utility bills and prescriptions.

On the heels of two workshops regarding Avista’s proposals to increase utility rates even more for residential customers, 14.5% for electric and 4.9% for natural gas, a new AARP study concludes high utility bills will likely lead to adverse health outcomes for many elderly across the state and nation.  AARP is urging the Idaho Public Utilities Commission (PUC) to deny the rate increases.

“In a good economy these rate hikes are a bad idea, in a rough economy like today’s, they are a horrible idea and one that, if approved, could deliver a harsh blow to the elderly in Idaho,” said Jim Wordelman.  “AARP is calling on the Idaho Public Utilities Commission to do what’s right and say no to higher utility bills at the worst time.”  

The June AARP study, Affordable Home Energy and Health (http://shar.es/mDxfO), finds that high utility bills leave older people on limited incomes to make dangerous and sometimes deadly choices.  Oftentimes, soaring and unaffordable utility bills force the elderly to go without air-conditioning or heat, leaving them at increased risk for weather related illnesses and deaths from heart disease, stroke or respiratory disease. Seventy-four percent of households that include older adults report that they cut back on other necessities (such as groceries or prescriptions), due to high home energy bills.

In recent months, Avista reported a slight drop in its stock price, while the utility company’s CEO, Scott Morris, reports a compensation of over $3 million. The rate hike proposal submitted to the Idaho Public Utilities Commission cites an increase in the cost of producing and delivering energy, coupled with upgrades as the primary reason for the increases.

 “Avista is seeking to balance their corporate checkbook on the backs of Idaho consumers,” added Wordelman.  “People over 65 spend an average of 20% of their household income on utilities and nearly 30% on health care – that doesn’t leave a whole lot of wiggle room.”

An AARP survey of Idaho residents found an astounding 64% had already seen changes in their utility bills.  The full Idaho survey, Economic Well-Being in Idaho, can be found here: http://shar.es/mDxr5.

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