By Nadia Ramlagan for WVNS
West Virginia residents’ electricity rates have nearly doubled over the past decade – and may soon climb higher, under a nearly $650 million rate hike proposal by American Electric Power.
The company is asking the state’s Public Service Commission to increase rates by 37% this year, or by 12% over each of the next three years, or by 3.5% a year indefinitely.
AEP says it needs the money to offset rising energy costs.
Critics like Jim Kotcon – chair of the Sierra Club’s West Virginia Chapter – argued that the utility is focused on purchasing coal and natural gas for antiquated power plants, pushed to run beyond their expected lifespan.
“In essence,” said Kotcon, “that means that AEP consumers are being asked to help subsidize electricity for the jurisdictions in order to keep acquiring those fuel reserves.”
He said if the commission approves a rate increase, households could see higher bills as early as this fall.
Residents can submit comments about the rate-hike proposal online at ‘psc.state.wv.us.’
Kotcon said renewable energy sources are much more cost effective than continuing to pay for high-price fossil fuels, especially in the face of extreme weather events driven by climate change.
Tens of thousands of AEP customers lost electricity last weekend after a series of severe storms.
Kotcon added that instead, the utility could be investing in practical solutions to ease the financial burden on its customers.
“We certainly know that energy-efficiency programs would’ve helped reduce customer bills overall,” said Kotcon, “compared to what we’re paying now.”
According to research by MRO Electric, West Virginia ranks at the top among states for its frequency of power outages.