WV Legislature Conducting Its Own Investigation into FirstEnergy’s “Deceptive Practices”

The WV Legislature appears to be fed up with the lenient WV PSC.  Legislators will be conducting their own investigation into what Sen. John Unger called FirstEnergy’s “deceptive practices” in WV.

If you are a customer of FirstEnergy’s two WV utilities Mon Power or Potomac Edison, you might want to contact Sen. Herb Snyder, chairman of the Joint Standing Committee on Government Organization, and tell him your electric bill horror story.  The Committee will meet monthly throughout the year.  You may want to ask Sen. Snyder if the public will be allowed to testify at a committee meeting in the coming months.

15 thoughts on “WV Legislature Conducting Its Own Investigation into FirstEnergy’s “Deceptive Practices”

  1. Senator Snyder said at the 22 May 2013 meeting of the Coalition for Reliable Power? Jefferson County NAACP forum “This makes me favor an elected Public Service Commission. The reason the Public Service Commission was created was to take rate setting out of the hands of the legislature, to avoid politicizing it.”
    26 May 2013, Senator Snyder was quoted in the MORNING JOURNAL of Martinsburg saying “He did not favor politicizing the Public Service Commission by electing the members.”
    Last evening, following a forum in Shepherdstown, Senator Snyder explained that he could not be responsible for how he is misquoted in the media.
    This morning, Todd Myers (sp.) and a rep of Potomac edison whose name escapes me, presented an infomercial on WRNR in Martinsburg at 0843. When Myers was informed several weeks ago that Keryn Newman, CFRP, would be in the studio to discuss the billing matters with him, he was advised “by counsel” not to share the air waves with Ms. Newman.What do the corporate thugs so fear that is not able to stand the light of day?
    I hope his legislative investigation is more decisive than his most recent statements.
    Today Senator John Unger has leaped on the legislative investigation call.
    Could it be that the Democratic Party is feeling the heat, since it has been the Mountain Party that ran this thing up the flag pole? Upon which side of this issue has Tomblin positioned himself?
    Danny Lutz Mountain Party Executive Committee 16th District

    • Electing the WV PSC is not a reasonable solution. We do need to make the Governor’s appointment of Commissioners a much more public process. The backroom appointments of political cronies must end. Current Commissioner McKinney is now two years beyond the end of his last term. Gov. Tomblin has neither reappointed him to a new term nor has he removed him and replaced him with a knowledgeable and responsible replacement. There are many candidates that are better and more responsive to WV’s needs than Mr. McKinney. Gov. Tomblin could make a big change on the WV PSC today, if he wanted to.

      Citizens and rate payers should hold Gov. Tomblin accountable for his failure to appoint a new Commissioner to replace Mr. McKinney. That is the discussion we need to be having, not passing new laws.

      • I am at a loss to understand how on one hand, electing a PSC is unreasonable. In the second sentence later, “cronie appointments must end.” If there is a third alternative, I am open to it. I have suggested allowing the 3 appointments to continue, but electing 1 member to the PSC from each Congressional District and one at large. Should Congressional representation fall, the number of at large positions would increase. No more than one person could sit on the PSC at any one time. That Tomblin neglects his duties to keep appointments current argues against an “appointed only” PSC. This probably his way to avoid public outcry and corporate wrath at the same time.

      • Experience across the US has shown that highly motivated corporate interests using their concentrated focus and money can take over theoretically democratic processes. This is particularly true with elected positions that not many voters know much about or care about. The electric industry took over the Arizona elected PSC this way and is actively rolling back renewable power development in the US state with the best insolation. Crazy.

        In a few elections, when there are controversial issues involved, one or two good candidates might get elected when public awareness is high. History has shown, though, that over time, it is the corporations with something at stake that will dominate the electoral process.

        Governor appointments are not perfect either, but they are no worse than the electoral alternative. The one advantage of the current system is that we won’t have to waste time on legislators’ demagoguery. Legislators always like to talk about changing this or that law about the PSC. I have had experience with the WV Legislature on PSC matters for the last five years now, and I have never seen any evidence that legislation having any impact on any significant PSC policy could be passed. We don’t need more talk from legislators. We need a better PSC. It makes more sense to put our energy into a direct impact on that change rather than chasing vague plans by legislators who won’t be able to deliver anyway.

      • The other problem is that the operation of the PSC involves much more than electrical issues or rate cases. It is an extensive regulatory bureaucracy. All of its business is centralized in Charleston. As good as it might be to have Commissioners from around the state, the job requires Commissioners to live and work in Charleston. It would be hard to find Commissioner candidates from around the state who would be willing to relocate their families to Charleston, say, from the Eastern Panhandle. That would limit the number of candidates and would also play into the hands of candidates strongly supported by corporate interests.

  2. 6/19/13, a Mon Power vehicle was in the area. I have taken pictures of certain meters being read. Somehow, my meter and neighbors meters weren’t read. Myself, my left leg amputated, and my neither, who’s 80 years old.

    My last “actual ” meter reading has been done once in the past nine months. Possibly ten months, now. Why do I pay the costs of the service, without the services??

      • While that sounds like just desserts, they’d just shut off your power w/o notice. If you would like to file an individual complaint about Mon Power, contact the PSC at 1-­800-­642-­8544. If you would just like to file a generalized comment about Mon Power’s failure, to be considered in the context of the PSC’s General Investigation of the company’s billing and meter reading practices, you can file a comment online here: http://www.psc.state.wv.us/scripts/onlinecomments/formalDisclaimer.cfm Select case no. 13-0830-E-GI from the drop down menu.

      • Would anybody care to wager that the “investigation” reveals No pattern of wrongdoing by the utiliies,” who will be determined to have acted in the prudent exercise of business?”
        Would anybody challenge the suggestion that this decision has already been written by the utilities, handed to the “investigators,’ who have been told” to work it into their findings?”

      • Danny,

        I suggest you take a look at the PSC’s procedural order setting out the questions they want the power companies to answer. PSC investigations start with this kind of questioning. The PSC staff doesn’t really conduct an investigation by itself. The process is one where the PSC asks the power companies questions, the power companies respond. Then the staff and possibly other intervenors can request further information. The staff and intervenors will then present evidence and analysis of the power companies’ responses.

        Under PSC rules, the PSC can only make a decision based on the facts presented during the case.

  3. Bill:
    No argument on that point.
    I do not think the legislature is supposed to be bound by such constraints.
    I was referring to the legislative “investigation.” I posed two rhetorical questions concerning the validity of such an investigation, considering the consequences for those office holders who might offend the “big money.”
    As you know, I have serious questions about the PSC, since one member has served unappointed for two years, and the term of a second will expire 30 June 2013.
    Since the PSC has known about the behavior of the utilities and estimating bills for months at a time, why has this continued?
    Does this not constitute a substantial breach of the tariff upon which the utilities are granted quasi-monopoly powers?
    What rules of evidence the PSC elects to observe, I fear, are of very small consequences.

    • I would like to see the Legislature turn the investigation over to the Legislative Auditor’s Office. They have done a number of good investigations lately. If the investigation remains in the hands of a committee, I don’t think much will come of it, just a lot of posturing.

      PSC rules allow estimates only every other month. Bills cannot be estimated 2 or more times in a row. FE will have all kinds of excuses, but they can’t get around the fact that there is no reason for them to have violated this rule on such a huge scale.

      The other issue here has to do with the FE/Allegheny merger. The PSC had to approve that merger, which they did. Their approval was based on assurances by the companies that they would maintain service at existing levels or improve it. The companies were also prevented from charging WV rate payers for any extra charges resulting from the merger transaction. They have violated that one in the jacked up price they put on the Harrison plant.

      So it looks like the merger was not so good for WV rate payers. The PSC should have scrutinized FE much more closely in the merger case. That’s where the problems started. The PSC can’t take back the merger approval, but they need to do something to fix this billing mess.

      • Bill:
        Without intending to do so, I think you have confirmed my rhetorical questions.
        I think you are correct that the legislative investigation will result in much posturing on part of the legislature, and “puffery” (in the legal sense) by the utilities. The utilities will claim that it no reasonable person would expect them to read meters every other month, in the same sense that fast food vendors are allowed to claim that their foods “are healthy and nutritious.”(McDonald’s, et al. 2005 NY Court of Appeals) That is why I, cynically, suggest that the decisions in all these matters have already been written.
        First Energy will proceed with the inflated Harrison sale because there is enough windfall profit in that transaction to pay lawyers for generations.
        First Energy will essentially tell the PSC they haven’t breached the tariff because it was an “unreasonable expectation.” The PSC will cave in to them, since PSC is answerable to no one but the utilities. I think the PSC is like the unmanageable stepchild. Hence no appointment has been made in two years, with Mr. Albert’s term to expire in 8 days.
        I would like to have a $95,000 per year position in which I am not subject to removal.
        Though only a gesture, the proposal I have made to allow each county in WV to have a “utility ombudsman” to arbitrate, mediate, and settle billing issues between utilities and customers would put an extra onus upon the utilities to engage in better business practices.
        Something I have not before proposed is to require the utilities to pay interest at the legal rate (same as the State Agencies charge) on overestimates of utility charges. It is usurious for the utilities to have the opportunity to use millions of ratepayer funds without interest.

      • I agree with you that the WV PSC is beholden to the utilities in some abstract sense, but the problem works itself out in practice a little differently. WV law says that if the PSC makes a legal error, its decisions can be appealed only to the WV Supreme Court. An appeal takes money to hire a lawyer and to do the legal research. Even if an appellant gets the money together to appeal, the Supreme Court has been very reluctant to take ANY appeals of PSC decisions because they don’t want to get into the kinds of technical issues that would be involved. So in practice, the PSC is accountable to no one.

        The PSC does know that if it makes a legal error, the biggest utilities will appeal every time. There is no question about that. So there is a greater possibility of the Supreme Court taking one of those appeals (1) because there is a greater chance of them happening in the first place and (2) utilities, especially AEP, have a lot of political power in Charleston.

        That said, I was surprised that Century Aluminum failed to appeal the PSC’s recent ruling against them. Maybe they don’t really care if they reopen Ravenswood (my theory) or maybe the PSC did a good job in its order avoiding any appealable issues.

        The big influence on the operation of the PSC is the Governor, because he appoints commissioners. The situation with McKinney is not that he can’t be removed. Just the opposite. Now that his term is expired, and he hasn’t be reappointed to a new 6 year term, he is, in effect, a day-to-day employee and can be removed any time the Governor wants to. If he was serving in a 6 year term, he could only be removed for malfeasance or criminal conduct. Because he is not protected by a 6 year term, if McKinney wants to keep his job, the Governor has total control of his decision making.

      • Bill:
        Perhaps the day to day is the reason Tomblin should appoint himself to the PSC in McKinney’s place. Then we would know exactly where he stands (big surprise).
        Obviously, McKinney has sufficient influence to assure that he is in no danger of the unemployment line.
        I was also surprised at all the aspects of the Century Aluminum situation. I suspect that your are correct that the only way Century wanted Ravenswood was if they got subsidized electric power.
        The ludicrous cost of the appeal process makes the entire legal system, and the Administrative law system in particular, the prostitute of the high bidder. This you correctly observed, though not in such graphic terms. Referring to the above discourse about appointments, Keeping McKinney as a “day to day” spares the utilities a considerable amount of expense. I suspect that within the next 10 days, Albert will be “day to day”

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