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House bill would keep rising electric rates in check

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A bill introduced on March 4 is designed to provide a tool to keep electricity rates down.

House Bill 2803, introduced by lead sponsor Delegate Tim Manchin, D-Marion, would require greater transparency and accountability around electric utilities' long-term investment decisions, according to Energy Efficient West Virginia.

"The bill requires our power companies to submit long-term plans to the Public Service Commission every two years to help the commission identify the mix of resources to best meet future energy needs," said EEWV policy and technical analyst Cathy Kunkel.

"Power companies would be required to consider investments in energy efficiency on equal footing with investments in traditional power plants, which they do not currently do," Kunkel said.

The utilities have filed plans in the past that they sometimes refer to as integrated resource plans but which do not meet the generally accepted definition because they do not consider demand-side and supply-side resources equivalently.

The Legislature is considering H.B. 2803 as the commission reviews two relevant cases.

Electricity customers in West Virginia, including residents and small businesses, are being asked by both major utilities to pay more than $2 billion to buy existing coal plants owned by out-of-state affiliates of First Energy and American Electric Power.  

"This bill simply puts in the West Virginia Code a planning tool that utilities have used for decades," said PSC Consumer Advocate Byron Harris. Integrated resource planning is in use in some form by 34 states, according to the U.S. Department of Energy.

"An integrated resource plan provides the Public Service Commission with a forecast of market changes impacting electric utilities," Harris said.

Residential electric rates have risen 68 percent for Appalachian Power customers and 39 percent for Mon Power and Potomac Edison customers over the past decade, according to James van Nostrand, director of the Center for Energy and Sustainable Development at the West Virginia University College of Law. Van Nostrand is both a former utility lawyer and a former utility regulator.

"The need for integrated resource planning cannot be made more clear," van Nostrand said in a recent paper on integrated resource planning.

FirstEnergy and AEP have in the past opposed related legislation or said this does not need to be accomplished through legislation because the PSC already has the power to require integrated resource planning.

H.B. 2803 is co-sponsored by Delegates Mary Poling, D-Barbour, Richard Iaquinta, D-Harrison, Nancy Guthrie, D-Kanawha, Clif Moore, D-McDowell, Charlene Marshall, D-Monongalia, and Mike Manypenny, D-Taylor, and was assigned to Government Organization and then the House Judiciary Committee.