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Bill Could Raise WV Home Electric Bills

The state Senate looks ready to move quickly on a bill to let major power consumers negotiate a price break. (Dan Heyman)
The state Senate looks ready to move quickly on a bill to let major power consumers negotiate a price break. (Dan Heyman)
February 26, 2018

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — A bill before the West Virginia state Senate could give industrial-scale power consumers a break on electric rates. But watchdogs say the cost would be passed on to small ratepayers.

SB 600 would allow those who use more than 10,000 kilowatts of power a year to negotiate a discount of up to 40 percent on their utility bills. Charleston City Council member Karan Ireland said a rough estimate by the Public Service Commission's consumer advocate showed that could cost residential ratepayers as much as 7 percent more.

She says power costs have been going up for years, which is hard on homeowners as well as manufacturers.

"I don't blame them for looking for a discount,” Ireland said. “But what is ultimately going to happen if this bill is passed is that residential ratepayers are going to be on the hook to make up the difference."

State Commerce Secretary Woody Thrasher argued the discount could be a way to encourage energy intensive industries to locate to the state. West Virginia has historically had low electricity prices, although that advantage has eroded as rates have risen sharply.

Ireland said the bill appears to be on a fast track, and was negotiated without input from representatives of small ratepayers. She said there were stakeholder meetings before the bill appeared, but not everyone was included.

"We have the office of the consumer advocate specifically designed to look out for residents and small-business owners and other ratepayers,” she said. “And yet they were not invited to attend these stakeholder meetings."

As Ireland put it, utility bills are the expense that comes right after rent or a mortgage in many households. She said ordinary people are already being squeezed by rate hikes.

"These increases are really hurting people,” she said. “And this is just another instance of something slipping by that's ultimately going to affect everyone around the state."

The bill may receive preliminary approval by the Senate on Monday.

Dan Heyman, Public News Service - WV