CHARLESTON, W.Va. — West Virginia consumers will face increasing utility costs as the weather warms. The state’s consumer advocate says rate hikes have been a trend for the past several years.
The state Public Service Commission approved a $23 million increase in early February for West Virginia American Water Company, the largest water utility in the state and a $44 million base rate increase for Appalachian Power and Wheeling Power companies in late February.
Under the increases, the average residential customer’s water bill has increased $6.65 a month while that same customer’s power bill has gone up about $4.50 a month.
State Consumer Advocate Jackie Roberts said since 2010 West Virginia has had rate increases faster than most other utilities nationally.
“For the longest time we had really low rates and now they are almost average,” Roberts said.
Roberts and her staff have fought against the rate hike cases. She has disagreed with the state Public Service Commission on several occasions.
“They get to make the decision. I get to put my best foot forward on behalf of residential customers and then they get the final decision,” Roberts said. “There can be a difference of opinion.”
The most recent ones have been settled for less than what the utilities were originally seeking.
Roberts said infrastructure replacement programs have also been part of the rate hike requests.
“As costs increase they can file rate cases,” Roberts said of the utilities.
Roberts said she’s most concerned about the impact the recent increases will have on low-income residential customers.
“That’s one of the reasons we started the Fresh Start program for low-income electric users of APCO (Appalachian Power) and also change the design of their rates,” she said.
The fresh start program is to help low-income residents pay portions of their electric bills that are 60 or more days past due. Appalachian Power made a filing with the PSC earlier this month introducing additional efficiency incentive programs.
Roberts also urges utility customers who take the budget plan when possible.
“So that they can predict what their utility bills will be,” she said. “The budget plan allows you to pay the same amount of money every month.”
The state Public Service Commission is currently considering a request from Mountaineer Gas to raise its base rate. Under the filing, the average residential customer would pay $3.87 more a month for natural gas. The PSC has until the end of the calendar year to make a decision.