CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Longtime state Public Service Commission Chairman Mike Albert made his final budget presentation to the state Senate Finance Committee Thursday while at the same time expressing concern about a fairly new surcharge option for some utilities.
Albert, whose term ends at the PSC this summer, told senators he’s concerned the PSC is losing some authority its had in years past in reviewing specific construction projects planned by utilities.
Albert said the erosion began after the legislature passed SB 390 in 2015, which authorizes the commission to approve Infrastructure Replacement and Expansion Plans (IREP) for natural gas utilities through expedited cost recovery by putting a surcharge on customers’ bills. The process eliminates the former certificate of need process.
“It started out to be specific projects, we’re now getting requests almost to include a line item under which they can include any construction they want,” Albert said.
According to the PSC’s 2018 Summary Management Report, Bluefield Gas, Hope Gas (Dominion Energy), Mountaineer Gas and Union & Oil Gas all filed their 2019 IREPs last year with Mountaineer Gas leading the way seeking a five-year investment of $119.8 million in projects.
Albert said he’s concerned the process bypasses what the commission used to be able to do in reviewing specific projects.
“I’m not suggesting that anything that’s been done is inappropriate or wrong. I am suggesting the commission needs to consider and keep its eye on what these projects are and how they are being done,” Albert said.
Albert told finance committee members he’s heard electric utilities are beginning to speak to lawmakers about approving the surcharge process for their industry.
“I know that when (SB 390) came through you’re going to see every other utility want 390-type treatment,” Albert said.
He said that would be another concern for the PSC and consumers both now and in years to come.
“We’re responsible for guarding the interests for both present ratepayers and future ratepayers and some of the things we’re seeing are going to result in shifting costs,” Albert said.