A recent gathering sponsored by the Jefferson County chapter of the NAACP and moderated by the Coalition for Reliable Power was attended by between 150 and 200 people.
The meeting was an opportunity for customers of Potomac Edison Electric utility, a subsidiary of First Energy to express the difficulties experienced with the utility’s billing practices to Jefferson County Commissioners Dale Manuel, Patsy Noland and Lyn Widmyer, West Virginia Sens. John Unger and Herb Snyder and Delegates Steven Skinner, Tiffany Lawrence, and Paul Espinosa. Also in attendance was a representative from U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin. Representatives from First Energy, Potomac Edison, and the West Virginia Public Service Commission elected not to attend, despite having been invited.
At the meeting, Potomac Edison ratepayers told of being billed triple and quadruple monthly increases in their electric bills, some following a progression of months of estimated electric bills. Others experienced enormous increases from one month to another, despite having made no changes in their lifestyles to account for such bills. Some ratepayers told of having power shut off after being ordered by Potomac Edison to pay in full plus a security deposit.
One speaker from Sierra Club of West Virginia described the accounting and economics associated with the proposed First Energy “internal transfer” of the obsolete Harrison Power Generating Station from an Ohio subsidiary to Potomac Edison and Monongahela Power subsidiaries.
This writer, a member of the Mountain Party Executive Committee, proposed a five- point plan for dealing with the excesses and abuses alleged against Potomac Edison. These programs are:
ν Increase the composition of the Public Service Commission to seven members, a) 3 appointed by the Governor, as at present, b) one elected from each of the Congressional Districts, and c) one elected from the state at large. Should the members of the U.S. House
of Representatives decline, the number of at large members would increase correspondingly. No more than one member from any one county could sit at any time.
ν The Public Service Commission must hold at least eight meetings per year, two in each of the areas of the state corresponding to the compass directions from the state capitol.
ν The governor must call a special session of the West Virginia Legislature and place the Energy Efficiency Resources Standard proposal on the call. This legislation died in committee in the regular session.
ν A meaningful net metering program for individually generated electricity sold to utilities, similar to that of North Carolina and California, must be enacted. The program must not discourage the creation of small independent producers of electric power.
ν Each County Commission or County Council will have the power to establish a utility (energy) ombudsman with authority to arbitrate, mediate, and direct resolution of difficulties between ratepayers and the utilities.
The proposal to transfer the Harrison Power Station to Potomac Edison and Mon Power will tie West Virginia ratepayers to coal for the most of the next three decades.
Instead of being subject to the fluctuations of the coal markets, the Energy Efficiency Resources Standard will mandate utilities to seek the least cost practices for producing the electric energy required by a growing West Virginia and for sale to other entities.
The enactment of these programs will go a long way toward bringing West Virginia into the 21st century with regard to utility regulation. West Virginia ratepayers cannot continue to be cash cows for out-of-state corporations and their investors.
—Danny Lutz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org