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AARP Campaign Turns Back Utility Increase

An extensive media campaign by AARP West Virginia helped defeat the largest electrical rate increase ever requested in the Mountain State.

The West Virginia Public Service Commission (WVPSC) denied a request by Appalachian Power and Wheeling Power for a 43 percent rate increase. Instead, the utility was allowed a 12.1 percent rate increase.

The ruling means Appalachian Power customers will pay more for their electricity, but substantially less than they would have paid if the full request had been granted. Customers who use 1,000 kilowatt hours of electricity a month will see their bills rise about $9 a month, from about $73 a month to $81.83.

“AARP has a long history of speaking up on behalf of consumers,” said AARP West Virginia State Director Gaylene Miller. “We are pleased with the public service commission’s ruling.”

Miller said AARP was concerned about the impact of the rate hike on older West Virginians, many who are living on fixed budgets. She said that up to 24 percent of their overall income would have to be gone to pay their monthly power bills if Appalachian Power's full request had been granted.

Gov. Joe Manchin also expressed alarm over the utility's initial request, saying at one point that "no one in today's market" could absorb a 43 percent increase.

The utilities are both subsidiaries of Ohio-based American Electric Power (AEP). The utility said that the rate increase was needed to offset higher fuel costs. The 43 percent rate hike would have generated the utility about $442 million, which AEP executives said included no profit but covered costs of fuel, purchased power and pollution control equipment.

The commission decided to grant the utility a $355 million increase, which will be phased in over four years to help consumers. Commissioners also have reserved the right to reconsider and adjust rates annually for the next three years. The increase amounts to about $124.7 million this year, including $18.1 million in customer surcharges intended to cover AEP's construction-related expenses.