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Solar Storm Could Play Havoc With Modern Technology; How to Raise a Billion Dollars; The Hottest Pepper in the World: Today on Here and Now

1:06pm: The largest solar storm in five years is battering the earth today with particles traveling at four million miles per hour, and the potential to shake the planet’s magnetic field, disrupt utility grids & satellite networks, and make GPS less accurate. The storm could also trigger communication problems and additional radiation around the north and south poles, a risk that has caused airlines to reroute some flights. The event started with massive solar flares earlier this week and grew as it raced outward from the sun, expanding like a giant soap bubble and astronomers warn that more storms could be on the way. Kelly Beatty, senior contributing editor with Sky and Telescope magazine, joins us to explain what exactly is going on up there.

1:12pm: The U.S. has a unique and outstanding tradition of philanthropy; there were over 1.3 million charities and foundations in the U.S. in 2010, but over 300,000 of those groups were in danger of losing their status due to administrative and financial problems, and the country’s top 400 charities have been struggling through the economic downturn. Howard Stevenson has a new primer on fundraising based on his long experience as a donor and his involvement in raising over a billion dollars for a number of non-profits. He says successful fundraisers need to think like entrepreneurs, because non-profits and new businesses share a key problem: both have missions that exceed their resources. Stevenson joins us this hour to let us in on what else he’s learned about fundraising.

1:40pm: Danise Coon knows her chile peppers. She’s with the Chile Pepper Institute at New Mexico State University. According to that august body of experts, the hottest pepper around is the Trinidad Moruga Scorpion. It’s about the size of a golf ball and packs quite a punch—so much of a punch that while Coon and her students were harvesting them, the peppers burned through their protective gloves.

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Local News Politics

Heating Assistance Demand Constant, Next Phase of Funding Facing Cuts

Louisville officials are anticipating a cut in federal Low Income Heating Assistance Program funds, but not a drop in demand.

LIHEAP has two phases: subsidy and crisis. For the subsidy phase, low-income Louisvillians can get help paying their utility bills. In the crisis phase, applicants for assistance must show proof that their utilities are about to be cut off.

The subsidy phase has ended, and, as in previous years, about $1.5 million was distributed, indicating that demand for money in both phases has likely plateaued.

“[That] seems to be the indication. Just based on the demand there and the demand on other kinds of programs we have in our department,” says Debbie Belt with the Department of Community Services and Revitalization. “Still, the unemployment rate seems to be improving, but there are still people out there who are unemployed or working other jobs just to make ends meet.”

Appointments for LIHEAP’s crisis phase can be scheduled in person beginning next Wednesday at the government center on Barret Avenue. Any money received from LIHEAP is paid directly to utilities on customers’ behalf.

The money will be distributed beginning January 4th, and appointments will continue until all of the money is distributed. However, it’s not clear how much money Congress will allocate for the program.

“We never got an allocation projection for Jefferson County; we were just hearing statewide it was as much as even a 50 percent decrease over what we got in past years, but it’s looking like it won’t be nearly as drastic,” says Belt.

Belt anticipates a roughly 20 percent cut in funding. Last year, the city got about four million dollars for the crisis phase.

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Local News

Council Tables 15-Year Insight Agreement Renewal

The agreement that regulates how Insight Cable operates in Louisville will get another review by the Metro Council.

A council committee unanimously approved Insight’s franchise agreement last week. The full council, however, sent the agreement back to the committee Thursday due to some questions about the company’s operations.

Specifically, the council will look at why Insight waited until this month to pay more than five million dollars for taxes owed in 2009. Insight contends that the bill was late, but majority caucus spokesperson Tony Hyatt says more review may be necessary.

“There have been some members of the caucus who have been concerned that there is not enough monitoring of Insight in the light of what we’ve been finding out there in the last week or so,” he says.

Also at question is whether Insight has been open enough with the city. Hyatt says council members will review how well the cable provider has followed recommendations from a previous audit.

“This is going to be more of a situation where the committee looks at what it would like to see as far as any type of annual report or update coming from Insight, because the auditors in 2006 had recommended Insight needed to do an annual report on various areas of its operations.”

While the council may require Insight to report more frequently to the city, it’s not clear whether the body will impose more regulation on rates or services. Hyatt says cities often don’t strongly regulate cable providers.

“As the cable industry and communications in general have been deregulated over the years, the Public Service commission handles an awful lot now, the federal government with the FCC handles a lot now,” he says.

The committee that will review the document will likely meet once more this year.

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Local News

Summer LIHEAP Assistance Now Available

by Gabe Bullard

Summer assistance is now available in the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program. Applications for one-time assistance for paying energy bills will be accepted starting Monday.

LIHEAP is generally only active during the winter, but due to the extreme heat, $311,000 will be distributed this week in Louisville.

The local Community Action Partnership will distribute the funds. Debbie Belt is the CAP spokesperson.

“There are a lot of families who are on fixed incomes and when you have a spike in your electric bills sometimes there’s not extra money set aside to help with that,” she says.

To qualify for assistance, Louisvillians must have a household income no more than 30 percent above the poverty level.

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Local News

Conway Re-Files Request To Dismiss Rate Case

by Gabe Bullard

Kentucky Attorney General Jack Conway is again seeking to have the Public Service Commission throw out a request for a rate increase from LG&E and Kentucky Utilities.

The utilities are seeking to recoup expenses for storm repairs and infrastructure updates. They are also being sold to Pennsylvania-based PPL. Both cases are being considered by the PSC.

Conway contends that the sale will affect the need for a rate increase and that the rate increase would make the sale a better deal for PPL. He wants the PSC to dismiss the rate case, which would force PPL to re-apply for the increase later, if it’s still necessary.

The PSC denied Conway’s previous request last month, but spokesperson Allison Gardner Martin says the request has changed in light of testimony from the utilities.

“There is information that was presented at the hearings that we included in our motion and we believe that we have a strong case,” she says.

Martin declined to specify the testimony in question. PSC spokesperson Andrew Melnykovych says the case now hinges on whatever new evidence might have been added to the request.

“The PSC’s position has been—to this point, and it was made clear in the denial of the original dismissal motion—is that they are separate cases and the utilities operate as standalone entities for the purpose of ratemaking and will continue to do so even after the sale is concluded,” he says.

The utilities are allowed to respond to the request to the PSC. The deadline for the commission to rule on the rate case is in November…two months after it must rule on the sale.

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Local News

Utility Rate Hearing Concludes in Frankfort

by Kentucky Public Radio’s Tony McVeigh

What was expected to be a two-day rate hearing in Frankfort for Kentucky’s two largest utilities wrapped up on the first day.

Louisville Gas and Electric and Kentucky Utilities originally sought a combined $252 million rate increase, but at the start of the hearing, announced they were lowering the request. The new figure is $189 million, which was acceptable to interveners in the case, like AARP.

Lonnie Bellar, of the parent company E.ON, announced the agreement from the witness stand.

“It’s very inclusive of all those interests,” said Bellar, “but perhaps as important – or maybe even more important – it addresses many of the concerns that the companies, saw expressed by their customers, throughout the process of this case.”

The attorney general’s office, which represents consumers, remains opposed to the rate increases, even at the lower level. A ruling on the rate hikes from the Public Service Commission is not expected until July or August.

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Local News

Hearing Begins In Utility Rate Case

by Tony McVeigh, Kentucky Public Radio

A hearing is underway in Frankfort on the latest rate hikes sought by the two largest utilities in Kentucky.

LG&E and KU lowered their requests and now are seeking $189 million in rate hikes, at the same time the utilities are being sold to Pennsylvania Power and Light. But before the hearing, the Public Service Commission denied a motion from the attorney general’s office seeking dismissal of the rate cases while the sale is pending.

“Yes, we have been dismissed, but they have said it was without prejudice, so we can renew that,” said Assistant Attorney General Dennis Howard. “Plus, we can explore those issues in these pending rate cases.”

Howard is representing consumers at the hearing, which is expected to last almost two days. The utilities say they need the rate increases to recoup investments in the Trimble County power plant and recover costs incurred by ice and windstorms in Kentucky.

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Local News

PSC Rejects Conway's Request To Halt Rate case

by Gabe Bullard

The Kentucky Public Service Commission has denied a request from the Attorney General’s office to throw out a rate case for LG&E and KU.

The two utilities have asked the PSC to approve a rate increase for infrastructure improvements and to recoup losses incurred after recent storms. The PSC also must rule in a separate filing on the proposed sale of LG&E and KU to Pennsylvania-based PPL.

Saying the sale would affect the utilities’ financial conditions, Attorney General Jack Conway asked the PSC to throw out the rate case until after the sale goes through.

LG&E and KU officials argued that the sale will affect PPL’s finances, but said the rate case is unrelated. The PSC agreed and will hold a hearing on the rate case today.

After the hearing, Conway can again file a request to throw out the rate case.

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Local News

Commission Holds Hearing on Proposed Rate Increases

The Kentucky Public Service Commission is set to hold a hearing Tuesday n rate hikes proposed by Louisville Gas and Electric and Kentucky Utilities.

LG&E is requesting to increase electricity rates by about 12 percent and its sister company, Kentucky Utilities, has proposed raising rates by more than 13 percent. If approved, it would mean nearly $230 million in revenue for the companies. Both are owned by E.ON U.S. and are in the process of being sold to Pennsylvania Power and Light.

Many ratepayers have complained and the utilities say they’re needed to pay for infrastructure improvements and damage caused by recent weather disasters.

The evidence will be considered in the hearing, says Andrew Melnykovych is the commission’s spokesperson.

“The utilities will present their reasons for seeking a rate increase and the attorney general” Melnykovych says, “and other parties have an opportunity to cross examine the utilities witnesses and put on witnesses to support whatever positions they might take.”

The hearing comes after the commission held public hearings last month on the increases. Andrew Melnykovych says the hearing could last one or more days.

“The attorney general will be presenting witnesses and the AG’s case for what they believe the rate adjustment ought to be,” he says.

Last week, Attorney General Jack Conway argued the companies should not be allowed to raise rates while they are being sold.

Melnykovych says the hearing will consider all classes of ratepayers, including residential and commerical.

“The principle is how much additional revenue should the utilities be allowed to receive from increased rates,” he says, “and then how that should be allocated among various classes of rate payers.”

If approved, the new rates would go into effect on July 31.

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Local News

PSC To Hold Rate Case Hearing In Louisville Monday

by Gabe Bullard

The Kentucky Public Service Commission will hold a public meeting in Louisville Monday on a proposed utility rate increase.

Louisville Gas and Electric and Kentucky Utilities have asked the PSC to approve a rate increase. The money would be used for infrastructure improvements and to recoup losses from ice and wind storms.

The PSC is holding a series of public meetings across the state to hear from customers about the rate case. Spokesperson Andrew Melnykovych says the meetings are just to hear from customers, and not to explain why the increase has been requested.

“There’s no Q&A or back and forth or anything of that nature,” he says. “It’s very much focused on getting comments from members of the public.”

The meeting will be at 5 pm at Male High School. Melnykovych says LG&E’s impending sale will not affect the PSC’s decision in the rate case.