Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

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January 25, 2013

Puckett bill looks to ease utility costs burden

RICHMOND, Va. — For the past several General Assembly sessions, one of the biggest concerns that State Sen. Phillip P. Puckett, D-Russell, has heard has been from residents of his 38th Senatorial District who struggle annually to pay their electric utility bills during the winter.

“With the cold weather we’ve had in recent weeks, we’re starting to hear from more people from my district who are struggling to pay their utility bills,” Puckett said on Thursday during a telephone interview from his office in the General Assembly Building. “Even though much of the winter has been mild, I’m already getting calls. The kilowatt hour usage seems to be going up.”

Puckett said that he introduced a bill this session that might delay the utility rate increase process for one year until Appalachian Power Company revenues improve.

“If APCO can put their rate increase request off for a year, next year looks a lot better than this year,” Puckett said. “They have to show their real costs of producing electricity every two years. I think it will help our customers if APCO makes that request next year.”

Puckett’s bill, SB 1366, is one of seven bills up for discussion this morning in the Sub-committee on Utilities of the Senate Committee on Labor & Commerce. Puckett explained that if the bill is passed, it will not prohibit the electric utility from petitioning the State Corporation Commission for a rate increase if its earnings during the rate period drop below its costs of doing business.

According to Puckett, SB 1366 would cause APCO to delay the filing of its next biennial review from March 31, of this year, and resets the next date for a biennial filing for March 31, 2014. The bill also provides several qualifying clauses that appear to be aimed at ensuring that the utility is able to petition the SCC if conditions change and that its returns fall below expectations. The final sentence is as follows: “The bill states that an emergency exists and that the bill is in force from its passage.”

Puckett predicted that the bill will clear the sub-committee today and that it will be taken up by the full committee on Labor & Commerce on Monday. That committee meets immediately after the end of the senate session.

“I think it will take the pressure away from APCO to ask for a rate increase in March,” Puckett said.

— Contact Bill Archer at barcher@bdtonline.com

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