By February 28, 2018 Read More →

Gazette editorial: If some WV businesses can negotiate lower electric bills, who do you think will pay the difference?

Charleston Gazette-Mail Gazette editorial

Everyone wants more good jobs in West Virginia. We’re all agreed on that.

But what are people willing to give up to get those jobs? And to that end, what burdens are state lawmakers willing to place on everyone else in pursuit of those jobs?

Today, West Virginia may get an answer. As reporter Max Garland noted in Sunday’s Gazette-Mail, the state Senate is considering a measure (Senate Bill 600) that would let manufacturers negotiate cheaper electric rates with utilities.

But wait, wouldn’t that mean the utilities would voluntarily make less money? Or would they find a way to raise someone else’s electric bill?

Duck, if you think a pie is about to hit you in the face.

Residential customers in West Virginia could see “a significant increase” in their electric bills if this bill becomes law, said Jacqueline Roberts, head of the state Public Service Commission’s Consumer Advocate Division.

“Now, I would point out that we have no idea how much this bill will cost residential and other customers,” Roberts told members of the Senate Energy, Industry and Mining Committee last week. “With the limited information we have provided to us, [the bill] could result in a significant increase for residential customers.”

State Commerce Secretary Woody Thrasher was also at that committee meeting, banging the drum on the other side. He said this bill — which would let big companies get cheaper electricity while everyday West Virginians likely pay more for theirs — is “as significant a thing to West Virginia and its future as anything else I can identify.”

Electric rates have been climbing for residential and industrial customers in West Virginia, and Thrasher argues that the bill is necessary to keep large-scale industries in the state, and to lure other such businesses here.

But West Virginians have been down this road before. How many tax breaks have been given to coal companies and other industries over the years? How much tax money that could have gone to fix roads or improve schools or fund employee pensions and retiree health benefits, has been given up under the banner of bringing jobs to our state?

If senators don’t approve this bill today, it should be dead. Wednesday is “crossover day” at the Legislature, meaning that any bill that originated in the Senate has to be approved and sent to the House by the end of the day. If it doesn’t, barring some contortionist legislative moves, it can’t pass during this legislative session.

This bill is targeted toward energy-intensive manufacturers, including those in the coal industry. The bill’s lead sponsor, Sen. Randy Smith, R-Preston, has yet to find the coal industry bill he won’t shill for. Four other senators were co-sponsors of the bill: Sens. Ryan Ferns, R-Ohio; Ryan Weld, D-Brooke; Glenn Jeffries, D-Putnam; and Roman Prezioso, D-Marion.

On Monday, the day after the Gazette-Mail report ran, the two Democratic co-sponsors, Jeffries and Prezioso, asked to have their names removed from the bill.

Maybe they came to the realization that they didn’t want to support a bad bill. Their colleagues in the Senate should realize the same thing and reject this bill.

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