The Upper Arlington City School District is enjoying a brief respite in the rapid rise of its utility bills, following a state agency's refusal of American Electric Power's new rates.

The Upper Arlington City School District is enjoying a brief respite in the rapid rise of its utility bills, following a state agency's refusal of American Electric Power's new rates.

But how that's going to play out in the long run is up in the air.

District officials' eyebrows rose earlier this month when about $100,000 was added to the electricity bill for this year, following a 23-percent rate increase by AEP on five of the district's accounts.

Last week, however, the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio (PUCO) threw out the new rates, returning them to December levels.

"I think we need to see how this plays out," district treasurer Andy Geistfeld said. "The question is, if they're going to roll these rates back, are you going to be reimbursed for January and February? We don't know the answer to that yet. What this does do for us, at least, it limits our increase for now."

Upper Arlington was one of a number of school districts, businesses and municipalities that filed complaints with the PUCO about the increases, which that board had approved two months ago. Geistfeld said it was encouraging to have the district's voice heard.

"This was a great first step for us," he said. "It shows what happens when various entities and districts really speak up and show that there is a problem to legislators and the PUCO. I think it was an important fact that we didn't just sit and accept it, we asked questions as a district and overall, I think that expedited things."

Geistfeld said that the increase for Jones and Hastings middle schools, Barrington and Windermere elementary schools and Burbank Early Childhood School would have cost about $78,000 more than the $332,000 the district spent on electric utilities for those buildings in the previous year. He added that while the district has been able to enact cost-saving measures to reduce its utility consumption, the nature of AEP's increase makes it difficult for the district to mitigate costs.

"We've made changes to help address our utility rates, but this does nothing but make things go the other way for us," he said. "The actual increase was in the distribution charge, which is a charge that we can't control.

"We've done a good job of negotiating some lower costs in terms of generation, but for a distribution cost, that's what the cost is no matter where you purchase."

AEP has 30 days to decide whether to go forward with its original electric security plan application, or to amend or withdraw it, according to a news release from the Ohio Consumers Counsel (OCC).

"The PUCO's rejection of AEP's settlement is a beginning step toward improving electricity rates for the public," said Bruce Weston, interim consumers' counsel. "The Consumers' Counsel will continue its advocacy so that the voices of Ohio's residential consumers are heard in this process for fair rates."