W.Va. PSC grants electricity bill increase in seasonal rate scheme

March 1, 2019

CHARLESTON — Electricity bills for many Appalachian Power and Wheeling Power customers will go up effective Wednesday, March 6, meaning a 3 percent increase in revenue for the utilities in a plan approved Wednesday by the Public Service Commission of West Virginia.

Residential customers using 1,000 kilowatt hours (kWh) a month will see a $5.38 increase in their monthly bill. However, customers using 2,000 kWh a month will see a $1.37 reduction in their monthly bill, according to the PSC’s order.

“To address the concern customers have around bills during the winter months, the company will implement a rate discount effective December through February each year,” according to Jeri Matheney, Appalachian Power’s director of communications. “With the new seasonal rate structure, customers with higher winter usage, such as those with electric heat, will see little or no increase, or even a decrease in their bills.”

Matheney added about 5,500 low-income customers will get additional help on their power bills through a “Fresh Start Credit” that will pay portions of their electric bills that are 60 or more days past due as of Jan. 28, 2019.

“The Fresh Start Credit will automatically appear on customers’ late February or March bills,” she said.

Matheney said customers don’t have to apply for the credit. She said it will automatically appear on the bills of everyone who is eligible.

“This is a one-time credit on customer bills as part of a settlement with the Public Service Commission of West Virginia returning savings from the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 to customers,” she said.

“This credit will make a big difference for many families struggling with their APCo electric bills,” said Jackie Roberts, with the PSC’s Consumer Advocate Division. “Many families have their highest electric bills in the winter, and this will help keep families warm. The Fresh Start Fund will provide much needed assistance for our low-income families.”

In the rate settlement agreement approved by the PSC, the company also states that it will not seek a base rate increase before April 1, 2020.

The PSC said in its order that it had received 1,262 signatures on comments, letters of protest and petitions protesting the proposed rate increase.

Barb Pack, of West Hamlin, West Virginia, said electricity rates are already too high.

“My electric bill was $380 in December, and January’s bill was $402,” she said. “I am a retired senior on a fixed budget. The electric company needs to stop asking for rate increases.”

Betty Wells, of Logan, West Virginia, said the increase will only hurt those on fixed monthly incomes, like her 86-year-old father.

“My dad, Lonzo ‘Bill’ Wells, owns an all-electric older home. Last winter his electric bill was over $400 a month,” she said. “He kept his heat turned down as low as he could stand it and only used lights when necessary.”

Wells said this winter he got help from the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resource’s LIEAP program.

“Without that extra help, he would not have had the money to pay his bill,” she said. “The PSC needs to rethink all these utility hikes they are granting.”

In February, the PSC approved water and sewer base rate increases for West Virginia American Water.

The terms of that settlement prevent the water company from seeking a further increase in base rates before April 30, 2021.

That rate increase saw the average residential water customer get an increase of $6.65, or 14 percent, on their monthly bill. Residential sewer customers saw an increase of $8.33, or 17.5 percent, on their monthly bill.

Appalachian Power serves roughly 470,000 customers in West Virginia, most in the state’s southern half. It is a subsidiary of American Electric Power.

In 2015, the PSC approved a $79 million increase in base rates for Appalachian Power after the company originally proposed a $226.04 million increase. In 2011, the PSC approved a $51.12 million increase for Appalachian Power base rates after the company requested a $155.5 million increase.

Residential utility customers in 17 West Virginia cities, including Charleston, Huntington and Morgantown, have seen their electric bills rise by 25 percent since 2014, according to the state Consumer Advocate Division’s 2018 annual study of utility rates. Water bills for those customers have risen by 10 percent, the study said.

Appalachian Power and West Virginia American Water both cited declining population resulting in fewer customers as a reason for the need in increased rates.

Follow reporter Fred Pace at Facebook.com/FredPaceHD and via Twitter @FredPaceHD.