To paraphrase the iconic late actor William Holden’s most often quoted line for the 1976 movie “Network” customers of Oklahoma Gas and Electric are mad as hell.

And they’re just not going to take in anymore. Except they really don’t have a choice.

On the backside of a rate increase that is either 3% or 9%, depending on who you ask, customers of the monopolistic utility company have seen their bills skyrocket and triple in some cases. Bills that ran $140 a year ago for similar usage are now, in some instances, $420 to $450.

The increased financial burden on a populace that isn’t all the affluent in the first place has led to a situation where citizens are simply having to allow their power to be shut off and do without or to move in with friends and family to survive.

And the bottom line? Despite the financial and physical hardship imposed on the public, OG&E is a lot like another movie legend in their response.

Echoing Clark Gable as Rhett Butler in “Gone With The Wind” they frankly just do not give a damn.

The outrageous rate increases and callous attitude toward a public who is forced to purchase what many consider an essential commodity for basic living from one legalized monopoly as led to an online petition on change.org seeking to force focus on the issue.

Entitled “Lower OG&E Electric to reasonable rates” the online petition has garnered almost 3900 signatures the text of the petition reads:

“Electricity bills in the river valley are ridiculous there are family’s with and without kids who have had their services shut off due to extremely high bills. Kids and the elderly suffer most from this –elderly deaths are the highest in summer months. Let’s see if we can get enough signatures to make a difference. Sign and post your electricity before and after amount in the comments and let them know how it’s affected you because electricity companies shouldn’t be able to charge what they want!”

The online petition was started by area resident Kara Simmons, who has prompted a social media backlash as people are posting their “before and after” bills showing the monumental increases. Hundreds of people have posted their personal story on Facebook in the past three days, and the “public service: factor of OG&E doesn’t seem to be too concerned with either the public or service at this point.

“I started the petition because a woman came in where I work (Cox Cable) and said she was going to have to shut off her cable because OG&E had disconnected her service,” said Simmons. “Her bill had almost tripled in one month. Look at the bills and comments that have been posted online. It’s ridiculous.”

“Fortunately, we have good jobs and we can afford to pay our bill, but a lot of people can’t,” said Simmons. “It shouldn’t be so expensive for what is a basic need for people.”

A local television station did a story on the matter earlier in the week in which an OG&E spokesperson — fully aware that her comments were going to be used in a news story — basically left more questions unanswered than answered.

The company line is simple. More people use electricity in the summer months. A new rate increase went into effect on June 1, the first such rate increase in six years. The increase for a customer using 1000 kilowatt hours a month is just $5.89.

“Actually, those are the lowest rates, our rates are the lowest rates in Arkansas,” the spokesperson said.

Uh. No, Bert.

The increased demand for electricity does skyrocket in the hot summer months. That’s a given in a society where a constant room temperature of 72 degrees — if not lower — is desired. When it’s 99 degrees outside with a heat index of 109, window units and whole house central air conditioning is going to use more electricity.

Like any other household consumable, if you use more you should expect to pay more.

But what if you don’t.

Inside Fort Smith has copies of six electric bills for OG&E customers from the month of July. Three of those bills show basically the same amount of power usage for the same month in 2016. Two show a slight increase while one bill shows a slight decrease from the same period a year ago because the family spent two weeks of the month out of state on vacation.

The results? All six of the bills showed massive increases. Three of the bills almost tripled and two doubled. The bill for the family that used less electricity was actually $97.27 higher than their 2016 bill.

The Arkansas Public Service Commission, the supposed regulatory watchdog put in place to control this type of thing, said on Friday that their latest rate hike approval was capped out at 9%. OG&E claims their average rate hike that started June 1 is 3%.

While the usage of Common Core math has run rampant in our school system, the usage of a calculator seems to disprove those claims. While one of the bills in question among the six listed above should have resulted in a rate increase of $11.63 cents from a year ago, the bill increased by $127.59.

The numbers just don’t add up. And in the real world, the utility company, because of their single stream control of what is supposed to be a “public” utility, seems to be just charging what they think the traffic will allow.

And despite their pleas to the contrary, they seemingly could not care less about you, me and whether we can keep the power on or not.

Inside Fort Smith called the OG&E customer service hotline on Friday morning. Without identifying the caller as a member of the media — and claiming to be an elderly home owner and a veteran on a fixed income whose wife is bed ridden and needed electricity to power her medical devices — we were given three options.

We can pay the bill before the cutoff date. We can set up a payment plan to pay the bill out in installments. And if we don’t want to utilize either of those options, they can exercise a keystroke on a computer in Oklahoma City at midnight of the cutoff date and turn off the power.

So much for “public” and “service”.

According to a “supervisor” reached after a 20-minute online hold “everyone is complaining about the rate increase which was approved by the PSC earlier and the bottom line is, you have been informed of your three options.”

So, an elderly veteran with a sick wife can just sit by and watch his spouse die when there is no electricity to power her oxygen?

Pretty much.

A second call to the same number, this time identifying ourselves as a media outlet. elicited a different response.

“OG&E recognizes the concerns of our customers and we are making every option available in order to meet the needs of and help alleviate those concerns. We ask anyone with questions calls our customer service lines.”

In the words of former Texas governor Ann Richards, that dog won’t hunt.

In March of this year, OG&E was denied a $92 million-dollar rate increase in Oklahoma and was forced to “refund” an average of .71 cents per bill after “recovery rates” were extended to make up the difference between the anticipated sale of electricity and the actual usage. Also, customers on both sides of the border continue to pay “recovery” rates from emergency repairs conducted years ago from a massive winter storm.

In other words, they can–and have–been basically charge you whatever they want and mask the charges in bureaucratic and regulatory red tape designed to justify their rates.

And the PSC seemingly just plays along.

Ironically, the latest post on OG&E’s corporate Facebook page is a picture of smiling employees of the OG&E “treasury team delivering nutritious meals to seniors through the Meals on Wheels program”

One can only hope grandma and grandpa doesn’t need a microwave to heat up their soup.

You can sign the online petition and voice your opinion on the rate increases by clicking HERE.

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Dennis McCaslin has been a longtime news and sports reporter for several media outlets in the Fort Smith area. He has also been a well known radio personality and play-by-play announcer for several years prior to joining InsideFortSmith.Com. He is the voice of the ArklahomaSports High School Game of the Week. E-mail: dennis@greatplainsdigital.com

2 COMMENTS

  1. My bill went from $50 one month to over $500 the next with an additional deposit due and we were gone for two weeks and nothing was on except the fridge being plugged in. It is outrageous what og&e charges

  2. People on fixed incomes have to go without much needed medicine and food or other utilities why does our city government let this happen

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