Again, American Electric Power (AEP) is proposing an additional rate increase that is currently being reviewed by the Public Service Commission (PSC). Senator Chafin has been a strong advocate for the people of this state, the consumers who are effected by these dramatic increases. On Monday, February 14th, Senator Chafin gave a floor speech and asked his fellow Senators to stand with him and find a solution for this growing problem. He was joined by guests, who were national and state representatives from AARP: Janee Briesemeister, Senior Legislative Representative with AARP’s National Office; AARP West Virginia State Director Gaylene Miller, AARP Associate State Director for Advocacy Angela Vance, AARP Associate State Director for Communications Tom Hunter, AARP Associate State Director for Outreach Linda Bunn and AARP West Virginia Volunteer Danny Gray.
Home energy costs make up a considerable portion of household budgets. Exceedingly volatile prices in recent years have significantly increased the energy burden facing many consumers. Here in West Virginia, older consumers are particularly vulnerable to rapid increases in energy costs. Nationally, about one of every four low-income older households spends 15 percent or more of its entire income on home energy bills. With the recent escalation in utility rates – primarily electric rates – in our state, a crisis is at hand for hundreds of thousands of consumers.
During the past 24 months, American Electric Power subsidiaries have filed three different revenue increase requests with the West Virginia PSC. The PSC commission, composed of three appointed members, has granted cumulative increases during that period of 26 percent to the utility providers.
This current proposal from AEP is the fourth rate hike request in two years. When faced with the prospect of a 17 percent increase in residential electric rates last fall, AARP moved into action and called upon its nearly 300,000 members across West Virginia to make their voices heard in the regulatory process. Senator Chafin and AARP’s efforts accompanied by thousands of public comments submitted to the West Virginia Public Service Commission. This course of appeals was instrumental in fighting on behalf of West Virginia consumers to save them from an additional $95 million increase in their power bills.
Senator Chafin remarked, “I commend the AARP for its leadership and passionate advocacy on the issue of energy affordability, and I am proud to stand with this organization and its members as we fight for West Virginia consumers caught in an economic storm of mass proportions. I urge my colleagues to join me in taking a closer look at West Virginia’s utilities industry in the coming months. Let’s work together to determine how and where we can find balance in a challenging marketplace for energy producers, for businesses and for consumers moving forward. We must seek solutions that take advantage of stability in segments of these industries to minimize the impact of additional rate hikes on consumers.” As a resource-rich state, West Virginians truly appreciate the investments and economic contributions companies like AEP, Allegheny Energy, Mountaineer Gas, Hope Gas, and West Virginia American Water Company make in our communities.”
Companies are entitled to make a profit and deliver a dividend to their shareholders. However, when those profits number well into the billions, where is the relief for consumers who continue to see double-digit rate increases in their bills without the benefit of additional income in their pocketbooks to bear this burden? Even if broken down into more manageable, graduated rate increases, rate hikes add up for consumers who see their household budgets shrinking at an alarming rate.
Senator Chafin’s office receives calls daily in reference to high/unstable utility services, and he is gravely concerned about the devastating impact of utility costs on low- to moderate-income West Virginians. Every lawmaker in the state Capitol, on behalf of the citizens of our state, understands that economic times are challenging for everyone, from utilities to small businesses, and large industrial users to residential customers. For struggling West Virginians to keep their households afloat paycheck to paycheck/ buy their medicine/buy groceries, we must dig deeper in our efforts to bring real relief to these individuals and their families. Senator Chafin is prepared to stand up for the people of this state and urges you to take a stand with him. Please contact the PSC at 1-800-344-5113 or mail complaints to West Virginia Public Service Commission 201 Brooks Street, Charleston, WV, 25301.