WHEELING - Residential American Electric Power customers in Ohio and Marshall counties should expect to see their bills continually increase during the next few years, starting with a 7.4 percent hike on July 1.
These increases are in addition to the 17 percent base rate increase AEP requested last month, revenue from which could be used for distribution lines, labor costs and other infrastructure.
"This is the second year of a four-year phase-in," said AEP spokeswoman Jeri Matheney, noting these yearly increases will be "almost entirely to cover the cost of coal and federally mandated scrubbers. There should be about another 8 percent increase next year, with another one the following year."
Under the plan - which Matheney expects the Public Service Commission of West Virginia to approve before July 1 - residential customers would see the average monthly bill for 1,000 kilowatt-hours go from $80.47 to $86.40. For those using 2,000 kilowatt-hours, the average monthly rates will go from $150.83 to $162.69.
AEP's current rate per kilowatt-hour is 8 cents, but will increase to 8.6 cents July 1. This has gone up from 7.1 cents in the year 2000, when the average customer's monthly bill was $70.91. AEP has about 45,000 customers in Ohio and Marshall counties.
The 17 percent increase proposal is part of a plan seeking to raise a total of $155.5 million in revenue for AEP. The commission has until March to decide on this hike for customers.
Acknowledging the struggling economy, Matheney knows that some West Virginians may struggle to keep up with the ever-increasing electricity bills.
"Anyone who is having trouble paying their bill should call us - we will try to help them anyway we can. One option is to sign up for our average monthly payment plan," Matheny said, noting this program allows electricity costs to be spread evenly throughout the year, rather than fluctuate depending upon usage.
Though she cannot predict the future, Matheney said new regulations from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency could lead to higher costs for AEP, which the company would seek to pass on to consumers. Matheney acknowledged that possible new environmental regulations could call for reducing the amount of coal used to produce electricity, as some in Washington, D.C. are calling for wider use of alternative energy sources.
"We are certainly monitoring what is going on in Washington, (D.C.) with both the EPA and Congress," she said. "We will react to whatever they do."
The EPA recently released a study detailing the "first-ever national rules to ensure the safe disposal and management of coal ash from coal-fired power plants." Coal ash is a byproduct of the combustion of coal at power plants. According to the EPA website, coal ash contains contaminates such as arsenic and cadmium, which are associated with cancer and various other serious health effects.