Heavy snow from snowstorms is highlighting the importance of West Virginia electric utility companies keeping their rights of way clear of vegetation and trees.
Something the state Public Service Commission is stressing in a recent order that requires electric utility companies to put together and provide a comprehensive plan for clearing their rights of way.
Just over two weeks after the order was filed, Appalachian Power Company is already working on that comprehensive plan, which they believe is a positive step forward.
“We think it will allow us to improve reliability for our customers in West Virginia,” said Appalachian Power spokesperson Jeri Matheney.
The proposals must cover all distribution and transmission lines on an end-to-end, time-based cycle, based on the utility’s specific operational and reliability targets.
“We will be able to go to a cycle trim, basically clearing right of ways on a calendar basis like every four years,” said Matheney.
Appalachian Power sees the cycle trim as a more efficient way of clearing right of ways than the current technique they follow which is based on priority.
The only problem with the cycle trim lies in the cost. It’s more expensive than current trimming techniques, which could mean higher rates for customers.
“Yes it will cost more at first and we believe it will not be much more expensive than today in the long run,” said Matheney. “But at first as we first implement this four year cycle, it will cost more.”
The PSC order also requires the companies to submit a way to pay for the additional tree trimming including possible rate increases.
But Matheney said it’s way to soon to predict the effect on rates with fuel costs going down and with so many other variables still to be determined.
If there is an increase in rates, Matheney expects it to be small since only a third of a customers electric bill covers everything to do with distribution including right a way trimming. The other two thirds of a bill is for generation costs.
But with fuel costs going down, Matheney said this is the best time to begin looking into reliability.
The order came as part of the PSC’s investigation that it launched following the June 29 derecho that put most state residents without power for several days.
Appalachian Power and the other state electric utility companies have six months to submit their plans to the PSC.