The Public Service Commission of West Virginia has set two dates regionally for public hearings on a proposed American Electric Power rate increase that would, if approved, raise power bills significantly.
AEP serves almost 500,000 people in 23 counties, including Fayette, Greenbrier, Mercer, Monroe, Nicholas, Raleigh, Summers and Wyoming and hearings also are set in three other locations around the service area.
On average, customers who use an average of 1,000 kilowatt-hours pay a power bill of about $94 per month. With the rate increase, they would see their power bill go up to $115.
It is a significant increase, especially for retirees and other households that may be on fixed incomes.
AEP says it needs the additional money to recover costs from dealing with the derecho and Hurricane Sandy, both in 2012.
Utilities of course are not the same as most businesses. If a local business decides to raise rates for its products and services, consumers have the option of not buying those products or buying them from a competitor who has lower prices.
There really is no second option when it comes to purchasing electricity to run and heat our homes and businesses.
Which is why it is important for customers of AEP to make their voices heard on the proposed rate hike.
Last week AEP posted net income of $493 million in the third quarter that ended Sept. 30, which was an increase of about 13 percent. Income for the year was reported as $1.443 billion, or about an increase of 27 percent.
Also last week, The State Journal reported about other issues with AEP. Namely, how the utility will respond to new regulations from the Environmental Protection Agency.
The EPA is mandating that West Virginia cut its carbon dioxide emissions by 20 percent by 2020.
In a simulation implementing what it would take to meet those new federal standards, AEP found “widespread occurrences” of voltage degradation and “cascading outages of the electrical grid,” the State Journal reported.
We think it’s important that these two issues are not conflated into a single financial issue. The rate hike to pay for expenses from the derecho and Hurricane Sandy are one, and the possibility of further increases to meet the demands of the new EPA regulations are quite another.
Hearings on the rate hike will be held in Princeton at the Mercer County Courthouse on Nov. 6. One hearing is at 1 p.m. and the other is at 6 p.m.
The final two hearings will be at the Public Service Committee Office in Charleston on Jan. 12. One hearing is at 1 p.m. and the other is at 6 p.m. The PSC Office is at 201 Brooks St. in Charleston.
We do have to question why, given that AEP services such a broad area of West Virginia, is the PSC holding public hearings at just five sites? For many utility customers in the 23-county area, this will certainly be an inconvenience if they want their voices heard.
For those local residents concerned enough to make the trek to Princeton or Charleston, it’s a chance to let the PSC know what you think about the financial impact of the rate hike on family finances.