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Local governments push back on power company rate increase proposal

More West Virginia communities are protesting a $297 million rate increase request by Appalachian Power and Wheeling Power.

Officials in Mingo, Mercer and Kanawha counties, along with city officials in Princeton, have told the Public Service Commission they oppose the rate increase request.

“On behalf of the citizens of Mingo County, the Mingo County Commission has passed this Resolution opposing the rate increase as being unfair to every citizen of Mingo County,” wrote Commission President Thomas Taylor in a resolution submitted to the PSC.

Princeton Mayor Daniel Graham signed a resolution stating, “That the Common Council of the City of Princeton wholeheartedly opposes the proposed rate increase, as being sought by Appalachian Power Company, that would contribute significantly to a further depressing of the local and state economies, as well as create a significant financial hardship on the citizens of Princeton and Mercer County.”

Appalachian Power and Wheeling Power made their request April 19 to the West Virginia Public Service Commission. The proposed adjustment to their Expanded Net Energy Cost filings follows approved increases amounting to about $100 million late last year and earlier this spring.

One of the reasons in the 141-page filing is to recoup ongoing costs of dealing with the covid-19 pandemic. Another is the rising cost of energy, particularly coal, brought on by worldwide demand.

The power companies say they have been running behind by millions of dollars on recouping costs while also facing the likelihood of additional costs.

Chris Beam

“With the steep and rapid rise in energy and fuel costs over the past several months, the ENEC revenues we collect from customers have been and are projected to be significantly less than the cost of the energy provided to customers,” said Chris Beam, Appalachian Power president and chief operations officer. “The longer that goes on the greater the deficit grows, and that’s what necessitates this request.”

He added, “It is difficult to make this filing, especially when inflationary pressures are burdening families on so many fronts. However, if the unrecovered ENEC amount continues to grow it will become even more difficult to deal with in the future.”

Currently the monthly bill for a residential customer using 1,000 kilowatt-hours is $155.66, according to Appalachian Power. If approved as filed the adjustment would add $18.41 to that amount beginning Sept. 1, 2022.

Mercer County commissioners wrote that they have been receiving expressions of concern from many citizens who say they cannot afford any higher prices for utilities.

“There’s a tone of desperation in nearly every dissenting voice our commission has heard individually and collectively,” Mercer commissioners wrote. “That desperation extends beyond the APCO proposed rate increase, but manifests itself in the increasing price at the pump and the increasing cost of food at the grocery store.

“Household budgets are collapsing under the weight of vital goods and services, with no appreciable light at the end of the tunnel in sight.”

Mercer commissioners acknowledged that Appalachian Power is an important partner that faces its own financial stress. “However, this commission hopes the WV Public Service Commission will consider the hardships and desperation many Mercer Countians are enduring right now, and seek out a compromise in any approved APCO rate increase that reflects the challenges that our people are currently facing.”

Kanawha County commissioners took note of a separate recent proposal by Appalachian Power that could reduce charges for a vegetation program. Commissioners contended that the reduced charges are actually offset by a reduced period of vegetation management. The Kanawha commissioners contended that proposal should be examined in the context of the other increase proposal.

“We believe the Company’s request for a negligible decrease in the VMP surcharge must be considered in light of its recent ENEC case, where the Company is seeking an astonishing $297 million rate increase,” Kanawha commissioners wrote. 

They urged the Public Service Commission “to take strong and decisive action on both of the Company’s pending surcharge petitions and stop the Company’s skyrocketing rates and unaffordable electric bills.”

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