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Households paid more for utilities last year than in 2012, report says

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- West Virginia residents paid 1.2 percent more for utilities in 2013 than the year before, according to a report released Wednesday.

In January 2012, an average household paid $277 per month for electricity, gas, water and telephone services. The same home paid $280 per month in 2013, according to an annual report released by the Public Service Commission's Consumer Advocate Division. The report attributes the increase in overall utilities to the rising rates of natural gas and water. However, the increased total was offset by a decline in electricity rates over the same period.

The report analyzed current rates for 17 West Virginia cities. Some of the largest cities were selected for a four-year study comparing rates to surrounding states.

Residents in Bluefield paid $316 a month in 2013 for electricity, gas, water and telephone services, while customers in Morgantown paid about $258, an 18 percent difference. Residents in Charleston paid $293 a month on average, according to the report.

In 2013, customers statewide paid about $121 for gas. Gas rates more than doubled from 2000 to 2008, reaching a peak in 2009 when an average natural gas bill was $200 a month. A gas utility rate decline is attributed to the global economic recession's effect on wellhead gas prices. Customers who heat their homes with natural gas saw rates decrease 18 percent, according to the report.

West Virginia American Water's rates are the highest in the state, according to the report. In December 2012, the water company requested a $24.1 million revenue increase. The Public Service Commission also approved an $8.12 million increase in 2013, raising an average customer's monthly bill by 7 percent, according to the report.

According to the report, Frontier Communications has brought Internet service to 88 percent of households. The company has also improved its response time for service outages to less than 48 hours. The report notes that Frontier Communications has made significant improvement to telecom services since it took over Verizon in 2010.

On average, West Virginia utility costs were about 11 percent lower a month than cities in surrounding states. Residents in Lexington, K.Y., paid about $285; in Columbus, Ohio, they paid $302; customers in Richmond, Va., paid about $311 a month; and customers in Baltimore paid about $328. People in Pittsburgh paid the most with $329 per month.

Reach Travis Crum at travis.crum@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5163.


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