CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- West Virginia's electric rates have reached record high levels in recent years, forcing people on fixed incomes to make hard choices. So when we sniff even higher electricity bills on the horizon, we tend to perk up.
The West Virginia Public Service Commission is caught in an avalanche of requests from energy companies for rate hikes. We must pay attention or it's going to cost us.
The corporations that supply our electricity are trying to pawn off old, outdated power plants onto West Virginia customers. First Energy has asked the PSC for approval to transfer to its West Virginia customers its 40-year-old Harrison power station, and send us a $1.2 billion bill (far more than the appraised value of the plant)! American Electric Power is making an even bigger request for the Mitchel and John Amos plants.
West Virginians are not wasteful people. We spend our money wisely. We know it's cheaper to get a tune-up than shell out big bucks for an old clunker. So, we ask, why do we need to buy these old power plants? The power companies say it's because our electricity demand will be increasing by 1-2% a year. Our answer to them should be that West Virginia's power usage needs a tune-up (and it does) to cut waste and keep demand from rising. There is tremendous potential for energy efficiency in West Virginia. Instead of allowing utilities to spend our money on used power plants, they can invest in reducing electricity demand. Actually, reducing demand is far cheaper per kWh saved than investing in generating the same amount of power. The best news is that this kind of investment would generate jobs, not just electricity. Lots of jobs! Jobs that cannot be shipped overseas. Energy efficiency, with known technologies, puts a lot more of the investment into labor, which quickly reenters the economy right here at home.
Neighboring states like Maryland and Ohio, already require energy efficiency from these same utilities. In practical terms, it means that power suppliers help subsidize EnergyStar appliances, weatherization programs, efficient municipal lighting, energy upgrades for industry and schools, even providing cheaper CFLs.
Electric utilities do not like energy efficiency. They make their money by selling electricity, not by conserving it. So when asked, the utilities complain that efficiency programs will raise electric rates. But customers don't pay rates, they pay utility bills. Did you know that West Virginians have the 7th lowest electricity rates in the nation, but that 26 other states have lower bills? There is tremendous opportunity for energy efficiency here, and it would be far cheaper than millions of dollars for more power stations.
But the real reason the utilities want to transfer these power plants is not the projected demand for electricity. It's because stockholders don't want the cost of operating an outdated plant that cannot compete in a free market. If they can transfer the plant to MonPower or Apco, their profits are assured, because the PSC guarantees that ratepayers will give them a profit. Ohio makes no such guarantee, so if the price of coal goes up, profits go down and their stockholders lose out. So the utilities want to foist those old plants on West Virginia customers, and not take chances.