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Older Wyomingites mobilize over utility rate increase

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Eric Galatas

(Wyoming News Service) Wyoming's largest advocacy group for people age 50 and older is mobilizing its 80,000 members to let the state's Public Service Commission know what they think about Rocky Mountain Power's proposal to raise utility rates

Sam Shumway - state director with AARP Wyoming - said with the cost of everything from gas, groceries and hair cuts going up, a 21 percent increase could be devastating for households whose budgets are already stretched thin.

"Many of our members are on a fixed income," said Shumway. "They're going to have to decide, 'do I pay for this medication? how do I absorb a $17, or a $25, or a $30 rate increase?'"

Rocky Mountain Power says their proposal will not result in higher profits, and that rate increases are necessary to ensure reliable service in the face of turbulent fossil fuel costs - including natural gas, which recently rose by 89 percent. 

The globally traded commodity is subject to price spikes due to extreme weather, international events, and other factors the utility says are beyond its control.

Shumway said members have been signing up to receive the latest information on Rocky Mountain Power's proposal, including a public meeting set for July 17 in Rock Springs, by texting the word "join" to 2277. 

Shumway said texting can be a powerful tool for increasing public engagement.

"They will then be getting updates about this Rocky Mountain Power case and other important issues," said Shumway. "And texts are nice because then you can click on a link to sign a petition, or click through to the Public Service Commission. And so, we're really trying to use texting to keep people informed."

If commissioners approve Rocky Mountain Power's request, the utility is expected to bring in an additional $140 million per year from ratepayers. 

Shumway said it's important for people who don't want to see Wyoming's most vulnerable residents face higher utility bills to speak up.

"To the extent that we engage and that we make sure that we raise our voices and we let decision makers know how these decisions will impact us in Wyoming, that's a good thing," said Shumway. "It's a good thing for individuals, and it's a good thing for our community and for our state."