Citizens Say No to Potomac Edison 17.2 Percent Rate Hike

A group of about fifteen citizens today urged the West Virginia Public Service Commission to reject Potomac Edison’s proposed 17.2 percent rate hike.

The public hearing was held at Shepherd University in Shepherdstown, West Virginia.

The meeting started off with controversy over the exact amount of the proposed rate increase.

But PSC staff attorney John Auville said that while many figures were being bandied about, the aggregate rate increase being proposed by Potomac Edison is 17.2 percent.

Morgan County’s Brenda Hutchinson urged the PSC to reject the proposed rate increase.

Hutchinson is running as an independent for West Virginia House of Delegates in District 58, which covers parts of Morgan and Hampshire counties. There is no Demcrat in the race.

The incumbent in the race, Republican Daryl Cowles, received $1,000 in 2014 and $1,000 in 2012 from the FirstEnergy political action committee.

FirstEnergy is the parent company of Potomac Edison.

Hutchinson said that she was at a senior center dinner last week and the proposed 17.2 percent rate increase “was definitely the topic of conversation.”

“The residents of Morgan and Hampshire counties, which I would be representing as a delegate, cannot afford this rate increase,” Hutchinson told the Commission. “We just cannot afford it. We are already struggling with food and gasoline prices.”

“My husband is retired. I work as a paralegal. And we cannot personally afford this rate increase. And I know there are a lot of seniors who would have an even greater difficulty paying this increased rate.”

Hutchinson said that 15.8 percent of the people in Morgan County live below the poverty line and 16.4 percent of the people in Hampshire County live below the poverty line.

Hutchinson said that a 17.2 percent rate hike might not seem much to Anthony Alexander, the CEO of FirstEnergy, who made an average of $15 million a year over the past three years.

“But to many seniors, it amounts to hundreds of dollars they simply cannot afford,” Hutchinson said. “What about the thousands of citizens of Morgan and Hampshire counties who work one, two or three jobs just to make ends meet? I’ve been one of those people. I know what that is like. And then try and come home and take care of a family.”

“FirstEnergy’s political action committee sent $2,000 to my opponent,” Hutchinson said. “Why? What are the political leaders of this state doing? Why aren’t they speaking up against this rate increase?”

“FirstEnergy is asking the low income and middle income citizens, seniors on fixed incomes, and small businesses to pay for a $15 million a year CEO who is making three times the CEO industry average in compensation.”

“I urge the Public Service Commission to just say no to FirstEnergy. A 17.2 percent rate increase is too much. The people of Morgan and Hampshire counties simply cannot afford it.”

Martinsburg resident Helen Henderson said that while living in Montgomery County, Maryland, “the most I ever paid to PEPCO there during the worst winter was about $250.”

“This past February, living in Martinsburg, one month the Potomac Edison bill was $800,” Henderson said. “My husband and I are retired and it’s really a big hardship for us. Having a 17.2 percent increase is going to be even harder to come up with. Please consider carefully those on fixed incomes before you put it into effect.”

Alan Dattelbaum of Charles Town said that the rate increase was about shareholder value.

“FirstEnergy is not going to do anything to affect their bottom line,” Dattebaum said. “Their annual revenue is $15 billion on $50 billion in assets with 6 million customers.”

“They are not going to do anything to jeopardize that bottom line because Mr. Alexander owns many shares of FirstEnergy. Much of his compensation is based upon the stock price. And they are not going to do anything to affect their price.”

John Christensen of Martinsburg called on the Commission to make it easier on West Virginians to install solar panels.

“Only one in four Americans have the option to install solar on their homes and businesses due to a multitude of issues,” Christensen said. “That means that 75 percent of the people will not be able to enjoy the benefits of renewable energy in the form of solar integration. This figure is something the utilities can work on through common sense policy initiatives to favor customers rights to self determination, where each customer can choose the amount of energy to purchase from the grid, the amount to self produce and consume and the amount to save through energy efficiency measures that reduce consumption. These rights include the installation of solar energy equipment at the customer’s site and interconnection to the utility grid without discrimination.”

Patience Wait of Shepherdstown asked — “why is middle class income falling so much?”

“In part because the richest 20% – particularly the top 5% – have seen their incomes increase so much,” Wait said.

“That gain – and the pain it’s inflicting on the middle class, including here in West Virginia – comes from actions such as you’re considering today.”

“Why should FirstEnergy be given an additional half-percent on their return on equity?” she asked. “It’s a lot of money – describing it as a half-percent conceals the millions and millions of dollars it represents.”

“Why should FirstEnergy be rewarded for its bad behavior? In the PSC’s own order, you agreed that the company violated its tariff, understaffed its meter reading positions, created bad estimates that hurt West Virginia customers. Yet rather than holding them accountable, and making them fix their self-inflicted problems at their own expense, they’re asking that you reward them with $7.5 million in the rate increase. We citizens only asked that they be required to read meters for a year so they could get their data straightened out.”

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