Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

January 13, 2013

Utility rates: Bluefield tops the state — again


Bluefield Daily Telegraph

— Another year, another unacceptable report. The annual findings from the Consumer Advocate Division of the state Public Service Commission are in, and once again the report finds that residents in the greater Bluefield area are paying among the highest public utility rates in the state.

This isn’t the first time the CAD findings have shown high rates in Bluefield. In fact, the story has been the same for the Bluefield area for a couple of years now. And worse yet, no one — not the PSC or the West Virginia Legislature — is taking action to address this great disparity.

The CAD’s residential utility rate study for 2012 found that Bluefield residents pay, on average, $295.66 a month for electricity, gas, telephone and water, which is $18.44 above the state average. Though the city’s utility rates did decrease by 4.8 percent over the last year, the study found Bluefield residents are still paying the highest utility rates in the state out of 17 municipalities surveyed in the study. Residents of Logan, by comparison, are paying the lowest at an average of $262.67.

Bluefield Mayor Linda Whalen is correctly asking for PSC and legislative action to address this disparity. She is also calling upon area residents to contact their lawmakers, as well as the PSC, and demand action.

“We are happy to see some rates going down, but there is something seriously wrong when we pay the highest utility rate across the board over every other municipality in the state,” Whalen said. “There isn’t an adequate explanation for that. That is something the Public Service Commission needs to take a look at. They are the ones who allow the rates and have the power to adjust the rates. It is in their hands to do the right thing for the citizens in the southern part of the state.”

Blaine Braithwaite, executive director of the South Bluefield Neighborhood Association, said he believes the city should be seeing a much larger reduction in utility rates than it did. He is correctly calling for lawmakers to make reforms to the PSC and how utilities report their costs.

“There is absolutely no representation (from southern West Virginia) on the commission other than the utility lobbyists in Charleston,” Braithwaite said last week. “The present PSC president is a former lawyer for the utilities and spent decades advocating the utilities’ side of things. The entire regulation system in West Virginia is skewed toward the utilities. We have failed to update our regulatory environment to properly reflect what these utilities are, which are multi-jurisdictional monopolies.”

Why aren’t lawmakers taking an active role in fighting the unfairly high Bluefield area utility rates? This isn’t a new development.

Where is the outrage from our local representatives? Why isn’t someone introducing legislation to address this obvious economic disparity?

If citizens in one of the most economically challenged parts of the state are being asked, once again, to pay more than their neighbors, then something is definitely wrong with the way we regulate public utilities.

When something is broken, it should be fixed. Why are we still waiting to correct this obvious problem?