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Regional gov’ts protest utility increases in Fayette, Mercer, Cabell

Local governments are protesting rate increase proposals by two big utilities, Appalachian Power and West Virginia American Water.

“With a median household income $8,000 less than the average for our state median household income, Fayette County residents simply cannot absorb any additional financial burden,” Fayette County commissioners wrote in a letter that cited the combined financial effects of both rate increase proposals.

The potential rate increases for water and power, which will be considered separately, were announced within days of each other. Customers would receive bigger bills in their mail across a swath of overlapping service territory.

The West Virginia Public Service Commission has set a series of public hearings in the rate case for two AEP subsidiaries, Appalachian Power and Wheeling Power: July 11 in Cabell County, July 12 in Mercer County, July 24 in Charleston and August 21 in Ohio County.

The power companies are asking for $641 million in recovery costs, although the company’s representatives are proposing some methods that could soften the blow for customers.

The big amount has piled up, consisting of an accumulated under-recovery balance of about $552.9 million plus increased projected costs of about $88.8 million for the forecast period of this coming Sept. 1 through August 31 , 2024.

A prudency review for the PSC concluded that the power companies own practices contributed to the financial pressures, saying they did not exercise good decision making “to fulfill ‘their obligation to serve their customers’ with economic, safe, resilient and reliable electricity based on the use of the coal plants as established by the Commission.”

In recent weeks, county governments have been submitting statements critical of the rate increase.

The Mercer County Commission wrote that it has already protested “a seemingly endless succession of rate increases for AEP as well as for other utilities.”

“When local news agencies reported on the rate increase AEP is seeking this year, the tone of desperation and futility spread throughout the county,” Mercer commissioners wrote, saying several people addressed the issue at a recent county meeting.

“We heard that their desperation extends beyond AEP’s proposed rate increase and extends to the increased price of fuel as well as the cost of food at the grocery store.”

Some of the same county governments have written to express concern about proposed water rate increases.

At the beginning of this month, West Virginia American Water requested an increase of $41.1 million, prompted by millions of dollars in costs to invest in the system. The company says that would result in a monthly water bill increase of about $15 for the average residential customer using 3,000 gallons per month.

The Mercer County Commission wrote that citizens have expressed opposition to that proposal too.

“The citizens of Mercer County expressed their appreciation for the reliability of West Virginia American’s service and the quality of water we enjoy, but the dramatic increases in all goods and services place our citizens on fixed incomes in a bind,” commissioners wrote.

Similarly, the Fayette County Commission wrote that water bills seem to go up and up and up. The Fayette letter noted that the $15 estimated increase for monthly water bills could be combined with an additional $19 for wastewater charges.

“Fayette County residents simply cannot afford to pay an additional $30 or more each month for a necessary utility, especially considering Appalachian Power and Mountaineer Gas are already requesting more from our already financially beleaguered population,” wrote Fayette commissioners. “It’s prohibitive.”

The Cabell County Commission also blasted the water rate increase.

“The proposed rate increase has no boundaries and will afflict every socioeconomic class, causing the most damage to the low and very low-income families,” Cabell commissioners wrote.

“West Virginia American Water fails to be conscious of the detriment this rate will cause in our communities. These companies should reflect on best practices to best serve our community and not subject families to instantaneous rate increases without hearing from the public. Families and businesses deserve answers regarding rate hikes.”