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LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – Kentucky’s utility regulator is doubling down on its November decision to block groups representing low-income people and environmental causes from participating in upcoming hearings that will determine rate increases for Louisville Gas & Electric and Kentucky Utilities’ customers.

The Kentucky Public Service Commission, a board of three people appointed by Gov. Matt Bevin, decided last month not to allow groups such as Louisville’s Metropolitan Housing Coalition to take part in the LG&E rate case.

The commission’s decision was surprising considering it has routinely allowed those groups to participate in previous LG&E rate cases over the last decade, and it continues to allow big businesses such as Walmart and Kroger to have a seat at the table.

Now, after a Frankfort judge ruled in November that the regulator had no good reason to keep the low-income and environmental groups out of the case, the commission is turning to the Kentucky Court of Appeals.

The commission on Monday filed a motion to appeal Franklin Circuit Court Judge Phillip Shepherd’s Nov. 21 order that the groups be allowed to participate, court records show.

In the order, Shepherd said it would set a “dangerous precedent” for the commission “to abruptly depart from its well-known and long-held practice of allowing intervention by these (groups) without relying on substantial evidence to do so.”

In addition to the Metro Housing Coalition, which advocates for affordable housing in the Louisville area, the groups that have been excluded are Louisville’s Association of Community Ministries, the Sierra Club and the Community Action Council for Lexington-Fayette, Bourbon, Harrison and Nicholas Counties.

In its appeal, the commission repeats its previous assertion that the Kentucky Attorney General's Office already represents the interests of the low-income and conservation groups in the LG&E case. The commission also contends that Shepherd's court lacks jurisdiction and that the judge abused his discretion by entering the Nov. 21 order.

Andrew Melnykovych, the spokesman for the commission, declined to comment, referring a reporter to the appeal.

While excluding the environmental and low-income advocates, the commission allowed big utility customers like Walmart, Kroger, Charter Communications and Louisville Metro government to take part in the case.

Parties to the case can ask the utilities to produce information, and can present evidence and expert testimony for the commission to consider as it weighs whether rates should be raised and by how much.

“By keeping these interest groups out of the rate cases, relevant testimony goes unheard and valuable information is never considered,” Shepherd said in the ruling.

The Association of Community Ministries, a group of 15 faith-based ministries in Louisville, has been allowed to participate in previous LG&E rate cases dating at least to 2008, according to Shepherd’s Nov. 21 order. The ministries provide help with utility bills, among other aid, to low-income people.

The commission argues that the groups’ interests are already represented by Kentucky Attorney General Andy Beshear's office, which serves as the main advocate for regular consumers in utility cases.

But Beshear’s office told Shepherd’s court that the groups bring additional perspectives that should be considered.

LG&E has proposed rate increases that would result in the typical customer’s  electric bill going up by $7.53 a month, or 7.5 percent; and the typical customer’s gas bill by $7.14 a month, or 12.2 percent, LG&E said in documents filed with the commission in September.

Those figures include the already-scheduled removal of bill credits for LG&E’s tax savings under the GOP-led Tax Cuts and Jobs Act.

The case will unfold early next year and the increases are targeted to be effective in May 2019.

Reach reporter Chris Otts at 502-585-0822, cotts@wdrb.com, on Twitter or on FacebookCopyright 2018 WDRB News. All rights reserved.

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Chris Otts reports for WDRB.com about business and economic topics, higher education and local / state government. He joined WDRB News in 2013 after seven years with The Courier-Journal. Got a tip? Chris is at 502-585-0822 and cotts@wdrb.com.