Opposition to Power Rate Increase Voiced at Wheeling Public Hearing
photo by: Photo by Eric Ayres
WHEELING — State legislators from the Northern Panhandle addressed the West Virginia Public Service Commission on Wednesday during a public comment hearing on a filing by Appalachian Power Co. and Wheeling Power Co. that would raise electric utility rates.
Speaking on behalf of their constituents, West Virginia Delegate Lisa Zukoff, D-Marshall, and W.Va. Sen. Owens Brown, D-Ohio, were among a handful of local individuals who came to speak during Wednesday evening’s hearing at the City-County Building in Wheeling.
Emmett Pepper, policy director at Energy Efficient West Virginia, also spoke during the hearing, voicing opposition to the proposal. Several staff members from the West Virginia Public Service Commission, the PSC’s Consumer Advocacy Division, attorneys and representatives of Appalachian Power Co. and Wheeling Power Co. – both of which are subsidiaries of the American Electric Power Co. Inc., or AEP – also attended the brief hearing.
The case filed by the companies proposes to increase Expanded Net Energy Cost rates by $297 million to balance the costs of fuel, including coal and other resources to produce energy.
“If granted by the commission, the increase would mean an increase of approximately $13.73 per month for the average residential customer using 1,000 kilowatts of electricity,” said PSC Chairwoman Charlotte Lane, who presided over the hearing along with fellow commissioners Bill Raney and Renee Larrick.
Lane said as of their last update on Feb. 28, 2022, the companies reportedly paid $216,143,337 more than they had collected from customers for energy costs.
“To date, the case has received approximately 174 letters in opposition to the requested ENEC rate increase,” said Lane, who noted that the hearing was strictly for gathering public comments, not to present evidence or ask questions of the parties involved.
Wednesday night’s hearing was the first in a series of public comment hearings scheduled to be held throughout the state this summer regarding this case. Additional hearings are scheduled to take place on June 27 in Mercer County, on June 28 in Cabell County and on July 26 at the PSC headquarters in Charleston, where ultimately an evidentiary hearing will take place on Aug. 2.
Officials noted that the public can also submit formal comments regarding the case online at psc.state.wv.us. Written comments will also be accepted by mail.
All parties involved thanked the PSC for taking time to listen to public comments on the matter.
“Hearing from the public is an important part of the commission’s decision-making process,” Lane said. “These public comment hearings give the commisioners an opportunity to meet face-to-face with the ratepayers. However, if you can’t attend the hearing, you may still submit comments online or by mail. We want to hear from as many people as possible.”
photo by: Photo by Eric Ayres
Everyone who spoke during Wednesday night’s hearing in Wheeling spoke against the proposed rate hike.
“I want to speak today on behalf of my constituents, and I’ve been hearing from quite a few lately since the proposed increase in the power rates has been publicized,” Zukoff said. “Specifically seniors that are on fixed incomes are very concerned about the percentage increase.”
Zukoff indicated that she did hear from one person who was not opposed to the increase, advocating for a measure to keep coal mining jobs going. However, many senior citizens have voiced their concerns about the proposed rate hike, so she came to express their concerns to the commission.
Pepper applauded AEP’s energy efficiency programs; however, he urged the PSC to reject the request as proposed.
“We reject the latest increase proposal,” he said. “Having seen the rates increase by 160 percent in the past 15 years, we believe ratepayers have had enough. We ask you to commit to making the best interest of the ratepayers the polar star that guides all decisions of the commission.”
photo by: Photo by Eric Ayres
Brown noted that the current economic conditions are already putting a burden on consumers.
“My constituents think that this is not the time for a rate increase, due to inflation and everything else we are facing,” he said.
Local resident Phil Glaser also spoke against the proposed rate increase.
“Talking to some of the linemen from Appalachian Power, I think they need to start operating a little more efficiently,” Glaser said. “To me, trimming trees is a lot cheaper than replacing a line. And that’s one of the complaints I hear from the linemen.
“I know we have inflation, but we also have to operate efficiently, too.”
Representatives from the power companies did not speak during the hearing, but following the proceedings, AEP External Affairs Manager Joelle Moray noted that rates are reviewed every year and requests like these are made to the PSC routinely. She added that public comment is always welcome and encouraged.
Moray said this particular request is for recovery of costs already spent by the company in the wake of higher fuel prices.
“This increase is for fuel costs,” she said. “The purpose of this is simply a passthrough. If it costs us, say, $100 to purchase coal, then that’s the exact amount we charge the customer. The company doesn’t actually make money off of this. For this particular situation, we’ve already purchased the fuel, so this is a cost recovery. We’ve already spent the money on it.”
Moray added that the company actually has a decrease in now for vegetation management.
As an aside from the hearing, Lane commended Appalachian Power Co. and Wheeling Power Co. for all of the work they did to get everyone back in service as quickly as they could in the wake of the violent storms last week that caused widespread power outages just ahead of a heat wave.