Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

Local News

July 3, 2014

Area lawmakers urge West Virginia Public Service Commission to reject hike in power rate

BLUEFIELD — Area lawmakers are urging the West Virginia Public Service Commission to reject a request to increase the region’s electricity costs by 17 percent.

Appalachian Power Company (APCO) announced Monday that it filed for a base rate increase with the Public Service Commission of West Virginia. The company is seeking a $226 million increase, which would equal a 17 percent increase on current rates for electricity. If approved, the rates would not to into effect until the end of April 2015.

Area lawmakers voiced their disapproval Wednesday of the proposed rate hike. Sen. H. Truman Chafin, D-Mingo, urged members of the Public Service Commission to reject the rate increase.

 “Not withstanding the recent storms that we have endured, the requested rate hikes by the power companies, amounting to $226 million or 17 percent, is totally unreasonable and our citizens cannot and should not have to bear this huge rate increase in their utility bills,” Chafin said.

 Chafin said in a press release Wednesday that he has contested other rate increases proposed by the power companies in the past and conducted public hearings in Southern West Virginia.

 “With so many of our citizens struggling and on fixed incomes, and with Social Security retirees receiving just a little more than $14,000 annually, it is unreasonable to suggest that they can bear another $250 on their electric bill, and we suggest that the Public Service Commission urge the power companies to look internally to cover costs by trimming some upper management salaries as well as restoring the local workforce to clear right of way passages and keep lines in good working order,” Chafin said.

Sen. Bill Cole, R-Mercer, said he “would certainly be against a 17 percent rate increase.”

The citizens of West Virginia are not in a position where they can take such a large increase. In light of President Obama’s war on coal, the increase could be a taste of what is to come both for West Virginia and the country as a whole, Cole said. The state’s cap and trade legislation requires power companies to seek alternate sources of energy, and this would increase power costs in the long run.

“There’s no way I could get behind a 17 percent increase,” he said.

Delegate Marty Gearheart, R-Mercer, said he understood the power company was seeking a rate hike due to two storms. Being compliant with the state’s cap and trade regulations means companies need to show they are providing 10 percent of their electricity from alternate sources.

“That means AEP either having to purchase credits or have move alternatives (power sources). Either way, it means higher power bills for West Virginia,” Gearheart said, adding that he “agreed 100 percent” that the proposed 17 percent rate hike was extreme.

At a minimum, the proposed increase needs to be re-evaluated, he said.

“Maybe on a greater extent, take a closer look at what AEP’s costs are so we can assure that we are getting value from the guaranteed profit of a publicly-regulated utility,” Gearheart said.

Delegate John Shott, R-Mercer, stated the proposed increase was “strikingly high,”  and that he normally appears at state PSC hearings to oppose increases, and will probably attend hearings concerning this new proposal.

Like his colleagues in the Legislature, Shott said the state’s cap and trade regulation “will guarantee utility rates will go up. There’s no way around that.”

The state needs to either repeal the cap and trade legislation or change it, Shott said.

“There’s no escape from greater rates. It’s just a matter of how much they’ll go up under that bill,” he added.

Delegate Joe Ellington, R-Mercer, said he would also support asking the state PSC not to approve the rate increase.

“What I would like to see is more input about rate increases, at least on the local level,” he said. The state’s residents are seeing increases in the cost of living all the time. Until regulations like the cap and trade are repealed, the state is going to see increases in utility rates.

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