If you’re looking for an enterprise story on utilities, check out the annual rate survey in your state, says Tony Cook, a reporter for the Indianapolis Star. The survey will tell you who has the highest rates, which should put you on the quest to find out why.
The survey in Indiana showed electricity supplier Vectren Corp. had the highest rates. Tony’s story notes the company attributed it to plant upgrades to reduce pollution. But his reporting also exposed another reason: the company “locked into expensive, multiyear agreements to buy almost all of its coal supply from its own wholly-owned mining subsidiary, Vectren Fuels.”
Tony says he relied on utility commission filings for his story. He also used testimony from quarterly hearings where utilities have to justify rate changes. The state’s consumer advocate group, the Office of Utility Consumer Counselor, and companies that use large amounts of gas and electricity often will appear at or submit filings for the hearings, he says.
To put charges into perspective, the U.S. Energy Information Administration tracks coal purchases and electricity rates, which allows you to compare a specific utility’s rates to others across the country, or one state’s rates to another’s, Tony says.
“Utilities are tough to cover because of the complexity involved,” Tony says. “The upside is that such complexity generates a lot of public records that reporters can sift through to confirm tips or develop enterprise stories.”