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The John E. Amos Power Plant is seen in Winfield, W.Va., in 2017.

The Charleston Gazette-Mail published this editorial on April 22:

It would be understandable, in the current business climate, for American Electric Power subsidiaries to seek rate increase approval from the West Virginia Public Service Commission.

COVID-19 and energy embargoes against Russia for its invasion of Ukraine, among other factors, have contributed to high inflation. The cost of doing business is higher, and any utility is going to look to recoup that by charging its customers more.

But the persistent rate hikes and mind-boggling decisions both agencies have inflicted on West Virginians just in the past couple of years make AEP’s latest request to raise rates by $297 million — roughly $18 a month per West Virginia customer — seem cruel.

The average West Virginia customer who uses 1,000 kilowatts of electricity already pays about $155 a month, according to a report from the Gazette-Mail’s Mike Tony. That’s up from about $139 last year, and $55 in 2006. The price most West Virginians pay for electricity has increased by 150% over the past 15 years.

Now AEP wants more, because it has steadily cost more to operate the coal-fired plants that power most of the state, while other states have turned to a mix of cheaper and cleaner alternative energy sources. But exactly how are West Virginians, who live in one of the poorest states in the nation and are dealing with the same inflation hitting everyone else, supposed to afford yet another rate hike for a utility they can’t live without?

The PSC deserves an equal share of the blame for the situation as it stands. The agency is stacked with coal industry supporters, who enacted a rule that three coal-fired plants in West Virginia operate at 69% capacity, even though AEP and clean energy proponents alike argued that it made no financial sense to do so. The coal industry is dwindling, but it would seem that some on the PSC want to make sure their coal executive chums get every dollar they can. The PSC also approved a plan for AEP to pass rate hikes onto its customers to pay for upgrades to keep the plants operational past 2028.

Kentucky and Virginia also receive power from these plants, and the public service commissions in those states rejected the plan as uneconomical. So the West Virginia PSC decided it was fine for Mountain State customers to bear the cost for parts of three states all on their own.

West Virginia used to tout its low energy rates as a plus for residents and potential businesses. Now, West Virginians pay some of the highest utility rates in the country, and recent history does not suggest it is going to get better as the PSC considers this latest rate increase.

Coal won’t be keeping the lights on, if people can’t afford to pay their bills.

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