WV PSC Shuts Consumers Out of Blackout Prevention

I didn’t report on the WV PSC’s recent order in their December 2009 blackout case, but this morning’s humorous article in the Charleston Gazette changed my mind.  The Gazette hides their articles after a week, so look quick if you want to read it.

The heart of the article is the story that the PSC’s recent order has created a “working group” to implement a lot of the good ideas that PSC engineer Jim Ellars has suggested. Mr. Ellars made the bold suggestion that the PSC begin requiring AEP and Allegheny Energy to report on the reliability of their distribution systems in WV, just like other power companies do in other states.  What a radical idea.

The PSC has ordered the creation of a “working group” charged with developing new PSC rules about how power companies handle WV blackouts.  Guess what?  The only people on this working group are PSC staffers and representatives from the two out of state power companies, AEP and Allegheny Energy.  Where are the people who use and pay for electricity in our state in this “working group”?

AEP/Allegheny are already coming into the new process with their agenda.  Here’s what AEP’s Appalachian Power spokespeople told the Gazette reporter:

In response, Appalachian Power said it supported updating state rules to strengthen the reliability of West Virginia’s electric network.

However, the company called some of the PSC staff’s recommendations “counterproductive, unduly costly or impractical.”

The utility said the state should not establish benchmarks to compare power companies.

Appalachian Power also said it was impractical to require utilities to submit a detailed report and daily updates after major outages. Such information typically takes 45 days to compile and analyze, the company said.

Instead, Appalachian Power said it should only be required to submit summary information about major power outages within 72 hours. [emphasis mine]

You gotta love it.  “The utility said the state should not establish benchmarks to compare power companies.”  Of course not.  Then there would really be accountability.  Then West Virginians would see that there are real reliability problems in the WV distribution system, while AEP is chasing guaranteed profits with its new interstate transmission lines.

And, as we would expect, here is what the power companies really want from the ratepayer free “working group”:

In May, Appalachian Power filed a request with the PSC to raise electricity rates by 17 percent. The rate hike would be used, in part, to recover about $22.8 million the company spent to restore power after the December snowstorm.

The PSC’s current rules for electric service reliability don’t address how power companies can recoup costs after major outages.

The working group may recommend changes that “lay out the ground rules for cost recovery,” Matheney said.

It’s interesting to note that the power companies consider the reporting and monitoring that would help prevent blackouts to be “unduly costly” (who teaches these people to write?), but they have no qualms about “recovering costs” from West Virginia customers for entirely preventable distribution system blackouts.

The power companies don’t want to be forced to prevent blackouts, because blackouts are just another profit center for them.  The WV PSC is more than willing to help by creating a nice cozy insider committee that turns over rulemaking directly to the power companies themselves.

For shame.