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This Week from Charleston

By Staff | Oct 10, 2014

I spoke at the public hearing against the proposed rate hike for Potomac Edison on Monday. Here is the text of the letter that I submitted to the PSC Chairman:

I represent the 67th delegate district of West Virginia which includes Shepherdstown, Harpers Ferry, Bolivar and mountain communities on the Blue Ridge. On behalf of my constituents, I write to express my strong opposition to any rate increase, but especially for any rate increase related to the May 28, 2014 PSC Order regarding Potomac Edison’s billing practices.

I wrote to you and the Commission in April 2013 asking for a general investigation of FirstEnergy and Potomac Edison’s billing practices. The PSC opened an investigation, and after public hearings and investigation, found that, indeed, FirstEnergy/Potomac Edison had failed to meet its obligations. A utility is required to read meters “regularly.” This did not happen with Potomac Edison, and the Commission ordered Potomac Edison to increase meter readings to monthly no later than July 1, 2015. Despite the finding of fault, the PSC decide Potomac Edison should not be penalized because it should “return to and focus on the traditional good relationship with their customers. A penalty provision will not foster that relationship.” The Commission failed to cite any data to support its position that a penalty would make the relationship better.

Now, the ratepayers are being asked to foot the bill for Potomac Edison’s failures because the PSC wants Potomac Edison to be ‘friends’ with its customers. The PSC has directed the company to recover the increased cost by adding it to the pending request for a rate hike. This will likely add another half a percent to the upcoming rate increase, to make the total rate increase more than 16 percent.

With all due respect, this makes no sense. I have not heard from one customer who believes that their rates should be increased so that Potomac Edison can promote its relationship with its customers. What would promote goodwill would be for Potomac Edison to pay for its mistakes and not increase its rates. FirstEnergy and Potomac Edison should pay for their mistakes through a reduction in their profits. Let’s not forget that the President and CEO of FirstEnergy Anthony J. Alexander made a whopping $11.6 million dollars in 2013. I was recently in Cleveland on a business trip and was startled to see that the Cleveland stadium is named for FirstEnergy. I doubt that the ratepayers in West Virginia realize they help pay for a marketing their utility of an Ohio stadium at a reported cost of $6 million a year.

Rather than increase our rates, FirstEnergy/Potomac Edison should look to increase its investment in energy conservation and efficiency. Moreover, it should hire more skilled workers and rely less on independent contractors who do not have adequate training. Do not shift the cost of Potomac Edison’s mistakes onto the backs of hard-working West Virginia ratepayers.