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Town hall focuses on Appalachian Power, West Virginia American Water rate proposals

SOUTH CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Kanawha County legislators heard comments on proposed electricity, water and sewer rate increases during a town hall Wednesday in South Charleston.

Around 50 people attended the event at the LaBelle Theatre, which focused on proposals from Appalachian Power and West Virginia American Water. Both utilities filed rate increase requests to the Public Service Commission of West Virginia in April.

The Kanawha County Commission requested state lawmakers hold a public forum; House Minority Leader Doug Skaff, D-Kanawha, and Delegates Jim Barach, D-Kanawha; Mike Pushkin, D-Kanawha; Larry Rowe, D-Kanawha; and Kayla Young, D-Kanawha, hosted the event.

“They want us to do something about it,” Young said regarding the commission. “They want us to look at legislation, they want us to study it, and the best way that we study it is through some sort of official capacity.”

Delegate Kayla Young, D-Kanawha

Young said legislators requested an interim committee on the rate proposals, adding the public forum was an opportunity “to do something on our own.”

“We did invite every delegate from Kanawha County to join us tonight,” she noted. “This is not supposed to be a partisan issue in any capacity.”

Appalachian Power, along with Wheeling Power, submitted a $73 million increase to cover fuel costs for power plants and vegetation management. The company also requested a $5 million increase for its energy efficiency and demand response programs. Appalachian Power’s proposal would result in an $8.10 monthly increase for customers using 1,000 kilowatt-hours.

West Virginia American Water is asking to raise water and wastewater rates, in which water customers using 3,100 gallons a month would see an increase of $11.26 per month while the average sewer bill would increase by $17.70. The rates would not be effective until February 2022.

West Virginia American Water spokeswoman Laura Martin, who attended the hearing, explained to reporters afterward the rate increase is part of the company’s continued commitment to improve pipes and other infrastructure.

“We certainly want our customers to know that’s exactly what we’re doing,” she said. “This case is based on the $252 million worth of investments we would have made since our last case.”

All of the forum speakers opposed the increases, with each person noting the possible financial impact each increase could have on customers.

“This is abuse by the water company and power company,” Winfield resident Gregory Winter said. “If they would trim their trees every year like they’re supposed to, we wouldn’t have power outages all the time. If they would fix their water lines like they’re supposed to for years, they wouldn’t have to have rate increases.”

Pam Nixon of South Charleston said retirees will struggle to pay larger monthly payments.

“My income hasn’t increased,” said Nixon, who retired in 2014. “We have to budget for our water, our electric, our house payment, our rental insurance, maintenance on our cars.”

Martin noted West Virginia American Water has programs providing discounts to customers receiving supplemental security income or government assistance.

“We do want to work with them,” she added. “We do really recognize that our customers are struggling right now, and we want to work with them to resolve these issues.”

Young said the next step for lawmakers is reviewing the comments and seeing if any legislative action is possible.

“We just have to look at code and see what we can do to actually change things or change the process,” she said.

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