Appalachian Power requests new surcharge to pay for renewable energy plants
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. (WSAZ) - Appalachian Power is asking the West Virginia Public Service Commission (PSC) to approve new surcharges to cover the cost of opening renewable energy plants in other states.
West Virginia customers would pay more on their Appalachian Power bill every month to operate the solar and wind power plants. The company is also proposing a new Renewable Power Plus (RPP) tariff that customers would have to pay if they want to get renewable energy through these projects.
PSC documents show Appalachian Power is requesting to recover $415,294 from its customers through surcharges in just the first year of this project. That would pay for the opening of one solar electric facility in Berkeley County under a 2020 bill the West Virginia Legislature passed, encouraging solar development at brownfield sites to help attract business.
West Virginia customers would also be covering the cost of Appalachian Power, opening two solar power plants in Virginia and one wind power plant in Illinois under the proposal. Additionally, the power company is asking for permission to purchase more renewable energy from three other Virginia solar facilities.
WSAZ reached out to an Appalachian Power spokesperson about an interview for this story. We were told they were in Virginia out of cellphone service, but they later sent WSAZ a press release about the increase request.
The company said the cost of the new green energy plants will be partially offset by the sale of this electricity to large corporations that want to use clean power. Appalachian Power said the renewable energy projects will reduce West Virginia customer rates by around $22 million during the first decade, but a spokesperson said that will only create a minimal decrease on the average customer’s monthly bill.
“Having renewable energy in the mix was a key factor in Nucor Corporation’s recent decision to locate its $2.7 billion steel mill in the state,” Appalachian Power President Chris Beam said in a statement. “In fact, between Nucor’s commitment and interest from existing large energy users, we can fully subscribe the West Virginia share of energy from the renewable projects we are filing today and still need more.”
More renewable power projects will only increase costs further, with Appalachian Power adding a 6% surcharge to bills last July to help pay for new infrastructure.
The Kanawha County Commission sent a letter to the PSC on Tuesday opposing this surcharge request. The letter mentioned the hardship many families on fixed incomes would face having to pay for these surcharges on top of increasing rates.
“Over the last 10 years, or so, your electric bill has gone up about 150% and American Electric Power is just going to keep adding and adding and adding as long as the Public Service Commission lets them,” Kanawha County Commissioner Ben Salango said. “We are trying to stop that.”
The commissioners said in their letter that West Virginia customers should not be forced to pay for these plants to open in other states. They are concerned this increase will lead to other increases in the future as the company continues to shift away from fossil fuels, like coal, and use more renewable energy sources.
Appalachian Power testified that it had as many as eight surcharges on customer bills in 2021, according to the commission letter.
“Every time American Electric Power (Appalachian Power’s parent company) wants to expand, now getting into renewable energy, they are just going to raise our bills,” Salango said. “I say take the money from your profits. Twenty-one point seven billion dollars in profits during the pandemic. Use that money instead of billing the people who are already hurting.”
The PSC said it has received the surcharge requests and is working through the initial documents. No dates have been set for hearings on the case, and there is no timeline on when the surcharges could be approved or denied.
Appalachian Power stated in its PSC filings that it wants a ruling by June 30, 2022, which is the same date Virginia officials are set to decide on approving funding for parts of this project.
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