WV’s Obsolete Electrical System Becoming More Expensive

Over the past year, the WV PSC has refused to take up the task of rebuilding WV’s electric distribution system based on decentralized renewable power and the WV Legislature has refused, for the second year in a row, to make investment in reducing infrastructure needs by investing in more efficient use of electricity.

The result is new rate increases designed to patch together and protect WV’s failing electrical distribution system.

According to a news release from Appalachian Power, if the PSC approves the companies’ proposal, the increased maintenance on rights-of-way would cost about $58 million a year. That money would be “collected through a surcharge included in customers’ bills,” according to the news release.

Appalachian Power and Wheeling Power customers already pay for about $11.6 million a year for right-of-way maintenance, according to the companies.

West Virginia residential customers of the companies who use 1,000 kilowatt-hours of electricity a month would see their bills increase by 2.5 percent, or about $2.38 a month, according to the companies. Depending on how much power they use, commercial, industrial and other customers in West Virginia would see their bills rise between 0.1 percent and 3.8 percent.

When the PSC ordered power companies in January to come up with a new plan for keeping rights-of-way clear, commissioners acknowledged that power customers and utility companies “would likely pay more in the future,” but they said the higher costs should “be offset by reduced outages, lower customer impact and less disruption from future storms.”

In any case, PSC commissioners said in their January order, “it is clear from this investigation that sufficient funding for right-of-way management should not be sacrificed in the interest of keeping customer rates as low as possible.” [emphasis mine]

So, there you have it, just as I have been writing on The Power Line for the past four years.  Big electric holding companies like AEP and FirstEnergy chase rate payer subsidized big transmission projects, coal remains expensive as a fuel, AEP and FirstEnergy are increasing WV’s dependence on their obsolete coal-fired generation, and the Ohio-based companies’ obsolete distribution technology is becoming more and more expensive to maintain.

These are exactly the reasons that the Edison Electric Institute pointed to the imminent collapse of the entire centralized, monopoly-based electrical system in the US.

And governmental leaders in WV are now part of the coming train wreck.  As the Gazette story points out, the WV PSC has already signaled it’s willingness to invest more and more rate payer money in WV’s failing infrastructure.  Not only did the WV Legislature kill all attempts to expand energy efficiency investment in WV, but legislators also failed to renew the tax credit for residential investment in renewable power systems.

Innovation?  Entrepreneurship?  Creativity?  Energy security?  Those are for other states, not ours.  At least that’s what WV politicians seem to think.

2 thoughts on “WV’s Obsolete Electrical System Becoming More Expensive

  1. I would be happy to get off the grid. A week of being forcibly ejected from the grid by last summer’s derecho, lugging a geneator around, driving for gasoline for generator, was a pain in a lot of my anatomy, not just my (neck).

    But I think criticism of Mon Power’s stepped-up line mainenance is misdirected.
    Won’t raising the rates to reduce power outages make the ratepayers more willing to invest in on-site generation &/or storage? While for those not yet able to get off the grid, the rate increase goes for something we really want, fewer & shorter power outages.
    This could (& hopefully will?) go hand-in-hand with renewing the tax credit for residential renewable power systems. But not allowing Mon Power to trim trees won’t bring back the tax credit, nor will bringing back the tax credit significantly reduce customer demand for a more reliable grid.
    Give the customer a choice, let market forces work.

    Actually, the paltry $58,000,000 Mon Power will be spending on tree-trimming, should reduce the frequency of the common 4-hour outages, but do little enough against storms that twist steel towers. Shouldn’t you be demanding that Mon Power spend even more on reliability — & thus stimulate consumer demand for on-site generation & storage?

    I’m all for innovation, entrepreneurship, creativity, & energy security in WV. I just think that a better grid is as much a step toward, as a step away from, those goals.

    • Jim,

      First, the $58 million mentioned in the Gazette story is not being proposed by Mon Power. The Gazette story is about Appalachian Power, the WV subsidiary of Ohio’s AEP. Mon Power has not made its plan public yet, so we don’t know what parent company FirstEnergy has in mind for us.

      Investing in right of way maintenance for the current obsolete centralized power grid does not create a “better grid.” It just makes a more expensive grid. WV has had low electric rates in the past mainly because the WV PSC has allowed AEP and FirstEnergy to ignore the long term deterioration of both vegetation cutting and equipment in WV’s distribution system. It remains to be seen if the new vegetation control plans will actually be worth what rate payers will pay for them.

      Finally, there is nothing about the WV electrical system that could be described as “market forces.” WV is a state with electric utility monopolies owned by two Ohio-based holding companies, AEP and FirstEnergy. “Market forces” don’t operate in WV’s electricity system.

      Requiring power companies to maintain their rights of way is a good idea. I have no problem with that. Spending the kind of money the PSC wants to spend on an obsolete system without also investing in the real solutions to our long term problems is simply foolish.

      Decentralized power generation and investing in lower electricity use are much less expensive than our current centralized system. WV needs to begin taking those steps now.

      Do some browsing on The Power Line through some of my other recent posts to see what is going on in Hyde Park, IL and Boulder, CO. Take a look at the Edison Electric Institute’s report pointing out that our centralized power system may be coming apart sooner than we think.

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