This blog post was written by Brady Watson, former Civic Engagement Coordinator for the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy.
After years of advocacy and thousands of customers speaking up through two separate campaigns–the Freeze the Fees campaign and the ‘ACT on KUB’ campaign–the Knoxville Utilities Board (KUB) Board of Commissioners adopted two resolutions yesterday in order to increase accountability, cost-savings, and transparency. The first resolution freezes residential basic service charges, or fixed fees, on all KUB services for five years beginning in 2021 and running through 2025. The second resolution establishes a community advisory panel that will serve as a channel of communication between community representatives and KUB concerning major policy issues.
The two resolutions are the result of negotiations between Mayor Kincannon’s office and KUB’s executive staff to implement some of the reforms sought by the ACT on KUB campaign’s proposed City Charter amendment, which was sponsored by City Councilmembers Seema Singh and Amelia Parker.
Even though the resolutions do not achieve all of the proposed reforms the ACT on KUB coalition advocated for, the Board’s actions yesterday represent true progress and will genuinely help customers. In particular, by extending through 2025 the freeze of fixed fees that the Board agreed to last year, customers will have extended relief from the trend of steady annual hikes on the basic service charge that took place over the last decade. After 2025, any fixed fee hikes must first be subject to a thorough analysis and a cost of service study before being implemented. We hope that KUB’s commitment to rigorous study before any future fixed fee hikes and its willingness to hear from community leaders through appointing a community advisory panel will help keep the fixed fees from increasing any further for many years in the future.
SACE’s Executive Director, Stephen Smith, said in a news release yesterday,
“The purpose of the ACT on KUB coalition and our proposed city charter amendment were for the customers of KUB who are deserving of more accountability, cost-savings, and transparency from the public utility that serves their needs. These modest but important actions by KUB’s Board are a step in the right direction. There is clearly a need for more communication with and education of KUB’s leadership on these points. We look forward to the continued dialogue.”
According to KUB staff, the community advisory panel will be based on the PACE 10 partners council, which was initiated after a consent decree tied to sewage outflow issues, and a tree trimming council that was formed in response to complaints from community members. To ensure diverse representation, KUB has pledged to include members from low-income communities, environmental advocates, residential and business customers, and representatives from the city of Knoxville. SACE has also been offered a seat on the panel. You can see a proposed timeline for the beginning of the panel below.
As these resolutions are enacted, we owe appreciation to City Councilmembers Amelia Parker and Seema Singh for sponsoring and shepherding the ACT on KUB proposed charter amendment through the City Council process and to the KUB executive staff and Board for taking positive steps to address pressing energy issues in Knoxville brought forth by the ACT on KUB coalition. The extension of freezing fixed fees for the next five years and appointing a community advisory panel are both measures that will promote more accountability, cost-savings, and transparency for all KUB customers.
Now, all eyes shift to Mayor Kincannon as she nominates a new board member late this year, knowing that the community is calling for low-income representation on the board. In addition, while not discussed at the board meeting yesterday, as part of the Mayor’s resolution, the Board agreed to limit the amount of time Commissioners serve from two terms of seven years to one term.