"I didn't expect a bouquet of roses," said State Corporation Commissioner Junie L. Bradshaw with about 350 consumers concerned with ever-increaseing utility bills.
What Bradshaw did get were some guffaws, and a bit of hissing and shouting when the crowd didn't like his answers to their pointed questions. But the audience was polite.
Bradshaw, a former member of the Virginia House of Delegates was elected to the SCC in 1972 . His two colleagues, preston C. Shannon and Thomas P. Harwood, Jr. declined the Consumer Congress invitation to visit the area.
Diane Worthington, head of the state-wide Consumer Congress, set the tone of the evening in her introduction of Bradshaw when she remarked. "Most of us have utility bills as large as out mortgages." She said a recent survey by Consumer Congress found that 62 per cent of Northern Virginians didn't know what the SCC was. The commission regulates Virginia's utilities as well as its railroads, banks and insurance companies.
The very first question from the audience revealed the public's confusion about SCC's role. "Are consumers represented on the SCC?" Bradshaw was asked.
"That was the whole purpose of setting up the SCC," he replied, going on to explain what the SCC is supposed to do.
These are some of the topics Bradshaw dicussed during nearly two hours of questioning by skeptical consumers.
Why has VEPCO recently begun to apply a late payment fee to utility bills that are not paid in 28 days?
Bradshaw said that delinquent utility bills were causing VEPCO to lose $10 million a year. After a hearing before the SCC VEPCO was allowed to begin the late-payment surcharge so that this loss could be borne by those responsible and not by those who paid their bills on time.
Senior citizens complained that they have a hard time paying their bills because they are on a fixed income and when they receive their utility bills at mid-month, they often have less that 30 days to pay it. Bradshaw said the SCC is working with VEPCO to give customers at least 30 days to pay their bills.
Who pays for VEPCO 's advertising?
The commissioner said that any advertising that urges conservation or simply gives information, is financed by the consumer. The cost comes to 2 cents per consumer per year, he said. But the "image-building" advertising, to promote VEPCO, itself is borne by the utility, Bradshaw emphasized.
Bradshaw spoke about a public awareness program the SCC and VEPCO will shortly unveil called. "Beat the Peak."
The aim of the program is to encourage the public to use less energy during the peak hours and seasons when rates are higher. Part of the campaign will involve alerting the public to the approach of hot weather when one of the biggest drains on utility resources, air conditioners, are turned on. He declined to explain all the details of "Beat the Peak."
At the close of the questioning, one of Bradshaw's staff members, general counsel Richard Rogers told the audience that SCC's major problem was "how to make VEPCO act as if it was in a competitive situation. We recognize we have a problem and we know it."