Customers must be considered in FirstEnergy rate request

An editorial from The Exponent Telegram

CLARKSBURG, W.Va. — According to its website, the state Public Service Commission was established in 1913 and is responsible for regulating those utilities of “importance to public welfare.”

Currently, those utilities include electricity, natural gas, water, telecommunications and sewer service.

The PSC has the difficult task of determining what utility companies can charge for their services, which have been deemed necessary for quality and sustainability of life.

Which brings us to the recent agreement the PSC is considering involving its Consumer Advocate Division and FirstEnergy subsidiaries Mon Power and Potomac Edison.

FirstEnergy had asked the PSC for the ability to raise Mon Power and Potomac Edison customers’ rates as much as $152 million.

The company said the rates were needed to offset the cost of doing business, which included a PSC-ordered tree-trimming program.

That order stemmed from the utility’s failure to provide reliable service following Hurricane Sandy and the 2012 derecho.

Some customers were without power for a week or more. While the storms were of a cataclysmic nature, the fact that trees and foliage had been allowed to grow too close to power poles and lines was deemed part of the issue.

The PSC’s Consumer Advocate Division, as well as affected parties, stepped in to protest the rate increase.

And after several months of negotiations, the sides reached an agreement to lower the rate increase to $63 million. However, the PSC’s three-member board must approve the agreement.

The $63 million includes $15 million in base rate adjustments, as well as $48 million in annual surcharges.

The latter would cover the costs associated with the tree-trimming program. The program would be implemented over the next five years, company officials have said.

What that increase means for an average customer using 1,000 kilowatt hours a month is a jump in their bill from $92.62 to $99.52, or about 7.5 percent.

The base rate increase would allow the company to hire 50 more employees to help establish monthly meter reading (another frequent complaint of customers who allege high estimated bill charges). The base rate also would cover some costs associated with Mon Power’s acquisition of the Harrison Power Station, according to company spokesman Todd Meyers.

While we’re glad to see that the proposed amount has been cut from $152 million to $63 million, we’re troubled that the utility is still seeing a substantial increase for work that we believe should have been occurring in the past….

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