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WV Senate Bill 600 could allow manufacturers in WV a discount on electricity at others’ expense

The Charleston Gazette-Mail

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Consumer advocates say a bill that would let some manufacturers negotiate cheaper electricity rates with utilities would force residential customers to pay more to make up the difference.

The bill (Senate Bill 600) has made it to the state Senate floor. It sets a framework for manufacturers and utilities to negotiate special power contracts, which would be “designed to attract, retain or incentivize additional investment by the consumer, or provide benefits to the utility and its customers through actions that serve to reduce cost of service.”

The intent is to encourage energy-heavy manufacturers to stay in or move to West Virginia, which has seen electricity rates paid by both business and residential customers climb in the past decade, state Commerce Secretary Woody Thrasher said at a Senate Energy, Industry, and Mining Committee meeting Thursday.

What was once an advantage for West Virginia — relatively low electricity rates — has disappeared, and the state is now in the middle of the pack in terms of rates, Thrasher said. Industrial customers are unlikely to establish or keep their business in West Virginia with rates continuing to climb, he said.

“I want everyone to realize this is as significant a thing to West Virginia and its future as anything else I can identify,” Thrasher said of the bill.

But Jacqueline Roberts, director of the state Public Service Commission’s Consumer Advocate Division, said the bill doesn’t address the “systemic problem” of rates being too high for all types of customers. Instead, it tries to provide a stopgap for industrial customers that other customers could have to pay for, she said.

“Now, I would point out that we have no idea how much this bill will cost residential and other customers,” Roberts said. “With the limited information we have provided to us, [the legislation] could result in a significant increase for residential customers.”

Thrasher said the bill should reduce electric rates “in the long haul” because if the state loses some of its energy-intensive manufacturing base due to climbing costs, other customers would still have to make up the difference in West Virginia’s regulated market, where utilities are guaranteed a profit….

Charleston City Councilwoman Karan Ireland said at a Senate Government Organization Committee meeting Friday that she has “real concerns” about the bill, partly because the framework was agreed to in stakeholder meetings that did not include a representative for residential ratepayers.  …

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