Commission hears of electric cost rise

WELLSBURG – A spokesman for Mon Power discussed with the Brooke County Commission Tuesday the rationale for proposed rate increases in customers’ utility bills.

Allen Staggers, spokesman for Mon Power, a First Energy company; said the increases will vary according to usage and residential or commercial classifications but will amount to 16 percent for residential customers who use the average of 1,000 kilowatts of electricity per month.

As a result, customers who pay $92.62 per month will pay $106.79 per month if the rate hikes are approved by the West Virginia Public Service Commission. According to published statements by Mon Power officials, the increases are expected to generate an additional $96 million.

Staggers said the rate hikes are needed to offset about $110 million in repairs last year spurred in large part by Superstorm Sandy and major storms that struck West Virginia in 2012 and 2013 and renovations and staff required of power stations to meet new environmental regulations as well as rising costs in daily operations.

Appalachian Power, which also serves West Virginia, has cited similar reasons for seeking rate increases for its own customers. Potmomac Edison, another First Energy affiliate serving the state, also has applied for a rate increase.

If approved, the First Energy rate increases would go into effect early next year.

Staggers said a series of public hearings are planned for Charleston and other sites to be announced.

He said he came to the commissioners because he knows they are among county commissions that have been asked to join the Monongalia County Commission in protesting the rate increase.

County Commissioner Norma Tarr said she understands the utility company’s plight but is concerned about the impact it will have on residents.

Tarr asked whether utility companies may receive assistance from the Federal Emergency Management Agency for storm-related repairs. Staggers said they don’t.

County Commissioner Jim Andreozzi said he and the other commissioners have taken steps to reduce the county’s budget, and he’d like to meet with Mon Power officials to discuss steps that have been taken to reduce its expenses.

Staggers agreed to arrange a meeting.

In other business:

Pat Ford, executive director of the Business Development Corp. of the Northern Panhandle, reported on efforts to bring businesses to Brooke and Hancock counties.

Ford said in addition to bringing Jupiter Aluminum and a handful of natural gas companies to the former Wheeling Corrugating Plant, the BDC is working with Trimodal Terminal to bring natural gas companies to property south of the Mountain State Carbon Plant in Follansbee.

He said the BDC also is aiding with the planned expansion of Barney’s Bakery at the Three Springs Industrial Park and worked to bring the Pietro Fiorentini Group to the area. The Italian company, which makes valves, meters and other parts for the natural gas and oil industry, plans to build its first American facility at the industrial park.

Ford noted the BDC also has worked with the Brooke-Hancock-Jefferson Metropolitan Planning Commission and Northern West Virginia Brownfield Assistance Center to secure grants for environmental assessments for the former Brooke Glass factory.

Maxine and John George of Northview Road, said heavy truck traffic on the road has resulted in a slip that threatens to collapse their home. The commissioners said they will contact the West Virginia Division of Highways and local natural gas companies, whose trucks may be involved, about the problem.

The commission was asked to contribute $1,000 to the Northern Panhandle Resource Conservation and Development Council, up from its previous contribution of $400.

Ruby Greathouse, a member of the regional committee, said each of the four Northern Panhandle counties is being asked to contribute the amount to provide for the council’s part-time staff member.

She said the group has experienced cuts in federal funds used to support various projects, including parks in Beech Bottom, Bethany and Windsor Heights; the Brooke County Pioneer Trail and Brooke County Museum and Cultural Center.

Commission President Tim Ennis said the council has supported many local projects but the commission will need to review its budget before approving the request.