CHARLESTON, W.Va. — West Virginia manufacturers want the legislature to do something about the steady increase in electric utility rates for industrial customers.
Representatives of the West Virginia Manufacturers Association, the state Department of Commerce and the state Development Office spoke to lawmakers at an interim committee meeting Tuesday at the state capitol expressing their concerns.
Derrick Williamson, of the West Virginia Energy Users Group, which represents the 15 largest users of electricity in the state, told lawmakers for years industrial rates for electricity in West Virginia were among the lowest in the nation and it was a competitive advantage but that has disappeared.
“We are middle of the pack,” Williamson said. “Yes, we are competitive with surrounding states but we don’t have the advantage we once had. We would like to figure out a way to try and change that.”
Department of Commerce Deputy Secretary and General Counsel Josh Jarrell told the committee representatives from the Development Office are hearing about those concerns more often.
“In terms of retaining existing businesses and recruiting new companies–electricity rates are coming up in our conversations where they never did before,” Jarrell said.
Over the last 10 years rates for an average industrial customer of American Electric Power have increased by almost 100 percent, for First Energy, by 80 percent for the largest users, according to Williamson.
Recently released Energy Information Administration data shows West Virginia’s average industrial rate now ranks 23rd among the 50 states. It was for years in the top five for the lowest rate, Williamson said.
Residential rates are more competitive around the 12th lowest among states.
“We maintain they (residential rates) have been subsidized by industrial rates for many years,” Williamson said.
Williamson said one issue is the recovery surcharges the state Public Service Commission has allowed for the utilities. He said the surcharges make up more than half of the rate customers pay.
Russ Lang Corporate Energy Manager, WVA Manufacturing of Alloy, told lawmakers his company has seen a steady increase in rates since purchasing the Fayette County plant in 2008.
“Since that time our rates in West Virginia have gone up approximately 90 percent,” Lang said. “It’s very concerning to us and the 250 employees at our facility.”
Jarrell shared a recent conversation the Development Office had with a manufacturer in the northern part of the state.
“If he moved his operation across the Ohio River he would save immediately $600,000 off his power bill–that’s alarming to us,” Jarrell said.
The issue is expected to surface in the 60-day regular legislative session that begins next month.