FirstEnergy requests $75 million rate increase for vegetation ma - WOWK 13 Charleston, Huntington WV News, Weather, Sports

FirstEnergy requests $75 million rate increase for vegetation management

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    As Appalachian coal production continues its drastic decline, West Virginia’s coal-producing counties are  not only losing people as lifelong residents are forced to flee their homes in order to find work, but in many cases, they’re also relinquishing millions of dollars from their budgets.

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FirstEnergy Corp. has asked West Virginia regulators to approve a rate increase totaling more than $75.8 million over two years to cover costs associated with its tree-trimming program.

FirstEnergy, on behalf of its subsidiaries Monongahela Power and Potomac Edison, filed the rate request with the West Virginia Public Service Commission on Aug. 31 to increase its Vegetation Management Surcharge, which would cover costs of its Vegetation Management Program.

The new surcharges, which equated to a 2.8 percent overall increase, would cover $51.9 million in past vegetation management expenses and $23.9 million in expected vegetation management costs. If approved, the new rates would take effect Jan. 1, 2016 and continue through 2017.

During the first year, the company estimates customers using 1,000 kilowatt-hours per month would see their monthly bills rise by about $3.64.

The PSC ordered the state’s electric utilities to file a comprehensive Vegetation Management Program in 2013 to enhance reliability after the 2012 derecho storm knocked out power for hundreds of thousands of residents, including 357,000 FirstEnergy customers in the area.

Todd Meyers, a spokesman for the companies, explained that the rate increase is a necessary step to provide the equipment and manpower needed to fulfill the PSC’s VMP order.

“It’s all sort of as a result of this order,” Meyers said. “At the end of the day we want to make our electric service more reliable for our customers; and when they do have outages we want to shorten duration of those outages.”

Throughout the first 15 months of the program, Meyers said the company trimmed almost 2 million trees and removed 400,000 more trees along 7,000 miles of electric lines.

“While we are only a little more than a year into a five-year program, results so far are encouraging that the vegetation management plan we started in 2014 is helping us keep the lights on,” he added.

The request comes just two weeks after the utility asked the PSC to raise its Expanded Net Energy Costs (ENEC) by $165 million to cover fuel costs and power purchases at the Harrison Power Plan.

The proposal would equate to a $8.79 monthly rate increase for residential customers using 1,000 kilowatt-hours per month.

Emmett Pepper, executive director of Energy Efficient West Virginia, said the Aug. 14 ENEC request highlighted the need for the utilities to provide more energy efficiency incentives to its customers.

“Compared to AEP's West Virginia utilities or FirstEnergy's sister subsidiaries in other states, Mon Power and Potomac Edison are doing essentially nothing to help their customers take control of their bills through efficiency,” Pepper said. “Given the number of rate hikes that their customers have been subjected to, FirstEnergy should harmonize its programs in West Virginia with the programs it already operates successfully in Maryland and Pennsylvania.”

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