HOUSTON --There is debate over a proposed rate increase by CenterPoint Energy. The company says the rate increase is needed to cover higher labor, pension and equipment costs. Now the public is getting a chance to voice opinions on the rate hike. Houston City Council is listening to CenterPoint energy customers who live in the city limits. All are talking about the proposed residential rate hike that comes at a time when some consumers say the company should be focusing on service, not the bottom line. The air conditioners are humming in the August heat in Midtown, cranking up energy bills and making news of a rate increase proposal from CenterPoint Energy very unwelcome. "Not for what we're getting right now, no. I'd like to see where that increase goes," CenterPoint customer Ron Heck told Houston City Council. CenterPoint Energy is proposing raising residential rates 5 percent or an average of $5.53 per home per month. Also in the proposal is charging the city of Houston an extra $7 million for streetlight service, decreasing commercial rates and making it easier to raise rates in the future. The city of Houston suspended the proposal and on Tuesday night gathered public comment in the first of two meetings. But even if the city votes the proposal down, it could still go into effect by the end of the year. That's because the rate hike proposal goes in front of other cities served by CenterPoint, and eventually before the Public Utilities Commission, which has the final say. A CenterPoint spokesman told Eyewitness News the company hasn't raised rates in four years and says it's now necessary. "Labor costs are up, pension costs are up. The costs of materials are higher," CenterPoint Energy's Floyd LeBlanc said. But some CenterPoint customers inside city limits say they don't want the cost of doing business passed on to them. "I would have to say that that's CenterPoint's problem," Heck said. The second meeting is scheduled to begin at 6pm on Aug. 24 at Houston City Hall.
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