Reporter Can’t Get Straight Answer from WV PSC on Rate Increase for Building

The Charleston Daily Mail needs to encourage their reporters to actually learn about the agencies and businesses they cover.  Here is reporter David Boucher’s story this morning about the WV PSC’s mess involving their 30 year old building.  Mr. Boucher does a good job of presenting the basic story about how the PSC allowed a now-out-of-business contractor to build brick facades on their building without attaching those walls to the structure itself.

As Mr. Boucher points out, to pay for the very expensive repair work, the PSC must raise the fees it charges utilities.  The PSC does not get any general funding from the Legislature.  It is designed to be a self-funding agency, so it depends on the fees it collects from the companies it regulates for its buildings and operating funding.  Here’s how the PSC PR person, Susan Small, explained it to Mr. Boucher:

It is considered a “special revenue agency,” meaning it receives money from fees assessed to utility companies.

It may charge up to 40 cents for every $100 of gross revenue earned by a company through business conducted in the state. It also is allowed to charge a utility up to 10 cents for every $100 of property the company owns.

The PSC tries not to charge the maximum amount allowed by law, Small said. For the 2013 budget year, it charged companies 30 cents for every $100 of gross intrastate revenue and 7.5 cents for every $100 of property, she said.

The next obvious question would have been, “Can these fees be passed on to WV utility rate payers and, if so, how does that happen?” Did Mr. Boucher ask that question?  We don’t know, but he didn’t put the answer in his article.  Instead, he let Ms. Small weasel out with:

The PSC is optimistic the money will cover all of the repairs, and spokeswoman Susan Small said utilities won’t be able pass the increases along to consumers.

“This is not something that ratepayers will be feeling immediately, if at all,” Small said Monday afternoon.

So, which is it, “won’t be able [to] pass the increases along to consumers” or “not something that ratepayers will be feeling immediately, if at all”?  Uh, Mr. Boucher, don’t you realize that those two statements are in direct contradiction to each other?

Did you ask, “Are WV utilities prevented, either by PSC rules or by WV statute, from including these fees in either their extended net energy costs (or similar variable cost recovery) or in base rate charges (for overhead and capital costs) or in any other cost recovery allowances?”  That’s a simple question.  No sign in the article that he ever asked it.

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