Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

Local News

March 5, 2014

Appalachian Power requesting rate adjustment

BLUEFIELD — Appalachian Power is asking the state Public Service Commission for a rate adjustment to help cover the past and ongoing cost of fuel, mainly coal, at its power plants.

Appalachian Power, along with Wheeling Power, submitted is annual Expanded Net Energy Cost (ENEC) filing Tuesday to the public service commission, according to a press release issued by Appalachian Power. The companies are asking for a $68 million increase in the ENEC to account for the difference between the amount currently being collected and the projected expenditures through the next annual filing period.

For residential customers using 1,000 kilowatt-hours a month, the request would raise the average bill to $98.14, an increase of 4.4 percent, from the current $94 bill, according to the release.

 The ENEC proceeding was started during to 2006-2007 period to remove the volatility from the power companies’ fuel cost, said Blaine Braithwaite, executive director of the South Bluefield Neighborhood Association.

“Coal, which was a major fuel cost at the time, was all over the place, up and down like a yo-yo,” Braithwaite said. “You could not tell how much coal would cost consistently over a 12-month period.”

Appalachian Power is now closing older coal-fired power plants, he added.

“What are you buying coal for? If you’re not in the power-generation business, what are you buying coal for?” Braithwaite asked. “Actually, they’re moving out of the power generation business by closing and keeping closed antiquated coal-fired plants. They’re closing the one in Narrows (Va.), and have no plans to retrofit it to natural gas. They’re buying power off the national grid at wholesale prices and supplying Bluefield. Are we paying for more off the national grid than what we were paying locally? There was no public input on this.”

Many Mercer County residents seek assistance when paying their utility bills. Craig Hammond, executive director of the Bluefield Union Mission, said the mission aided 71 families with utility bills in February.

“That was actually down a little bit, so that’s good news. That averages to about three families a day,” Hammond said.

Since the first of the year, the mission has aided approximately 150 families.

“Some of them have been astronomical,” Hammond said about the power bills he has seen. “It’s just an endless stream of people. I don’t know where it ends. We’ve seen bills all the way up to $1,900. That’s hard to explain. They had a termination notice, but one would have thought it would have been terminated before then.”

Programs like the state’s Dollar Energy Program aids people who make a good faith effort to pay their electric bills, Hammond said. In some cases, people make poor decisions and decide to pay expenses that are not as important as electricity.

— Contact Greg Jordan at gjordan@bdtonline.com

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