BRADSHAW — The Bradshaw community room wasn’t full for the West Virginia Public Service Commission’s public hearing on an approximately 17 percent rate increase request filed in June by the Appalachian Power Company and Wheeling Power Company.
Mike Albert, chairman of the PSC made a note that the turnout in Bradshaw was a little more robust than the commission is accustomed to. “This is a fairly large number of people,” he said as he looked out at the crowd. He asked the speakers to limit their remarks to 4 to 5 minutes. The audience was attentive to Albert’s request. Some took notes, but all seemed absolutely focused on the task at hand.
“I’m here because I’m against the rate increase,” Sabrina Shrader said after placing a stack of papers on the table where Albert was seated. “People in McDowell County already pay more for gas and food.”
Shrader said she is a McDowell County native who is now living in Mercer County. She said that she volunteers at the Five Loaves and Two Fishes Food Bank in Kimball to help people get food to eat, then she became emotional when she talked about how her stepsister, Amy, lived in a home with no electricity and no food. She said that she got pneumonia, went to a hospital, “and she died.” She became very emotional as she said that her stepsister had a son.
Albert started the public hearing at the appointed time, but the court reporter got lost on the way to Bradshaw, which gave Albert time to explain the process to the audience. He also introduced PSC staff members John Auville and Tom White, the PSC’s consumer advocate, as well as Brian Calabrese and Steve Ferguson, both representing American Electric Power.
As a matter of courtesy, Albert invited State Delegate Clif Moore, D-McDowell to be the first to testify at the hearing. Moore expressed his public apology to Albert for misunderstandings that arose from a letter he submitted to the editor of the Bluefield Daily Telegraph. Still, Moore said that, if approved, the rate increase will impact everyone.
“This rate increase is unbearable and we should do everything we can to stop it in its tracks,” Moore said to the shouts and applause of the audience. Albert cautioned the audience to refrain from reacting to the speakers. “We don’t need applause,” Albert said. “All this does is slow this up.”
Dennis Mutter spoke about a meeting in Iaeger several years ago that APCO reported that it had a surcharge to cover the expense of right of way clearing. He expressed concerns over the high incomes for APCO executives, but added: “I think a rate increase of 22.3 percent is a pretty big pill to swallow. I think that’s a huge chunk at one time.
“I do ask the commission to deny this rate increase because we can’t afford a jump of this size at this time,” he said. Chris Payne said that elderly people on fixed incomes and people working at minimum wage jobs will have problems paying for the rate increase. “How do you expect them to eat?” he asked.
Nora Stinson said that she thinks that APCO is “letting the House rot,” and added that crews have had to replace broken poles. “My question is what are they doing with the money that they have been getting from us for years and years and years?”
Gordon Lambert, president of the McDowell County Commission said that the county pays $50,000 per month to AEP. He said the county has had to lay two people off. He asked the commission to examine the rate increase carefully. “People are looking to Reconnect McDowell,” Lambert said. “Folks, this is going to disconnect McDowell.”
Roger Stacy of Paynesville, committeeman of the Republican State Executive Committee, 6th Senatorial District, called out state legislators including Moore for their support of West Virginia’s Cap and Trade bill. He said that Democrats passed the bill, and voted against a Republican bill to repeal the bill. He predicted that things would get worse in terms of higher power bills. “Hunker down and get ready,” Stacy said.
Al Carolla of Bradshaw said he pays his power bill on the budget and that in the past five years, his bill has increased from $100 per month to $180 per month. “Every time I turn around, our power bill goes up,” he said.
Brian Harris also asked about what AEP is doing with the record profits it has realized in recent years.
The PSC held another public hearing at Bradshaw on Wednesday night, and will hold public hearings today at 1 and 6 p.m., at the Mercer County Courthouse. Albert explained that APCO and Wheeling Power requested a $226 million increase on June 30. The PSC scheduled 10 public hearings in Bradshaw, Princeton, Huntington, Wheeling and Charleston. The commission will hold evidentiary hearings on the matter Jan. 13-16, 2015, in Charleston. The PSC has a May 26, 2015 deadline for ruling on the rate increase request.