On Monday, Oct. 6, public hearings were held at Shepherd University for residents of Jefferson, Berkeley and Morgan Counties to voice their concerns regarding a proposal by Potomac Edison to increase utility rates for its customers in the Eastern Panhandle of West Virginia.
Some residents are calling the proposal an insult to Potomac Edison customers and rightly so.
Nancy Lutz, a resident of Leetown, told the Spirit of Jefferson, “I collected 104 signatures in one day at the [Jefferson County] fair against the increase.”
First Energy, the parent company of Potomac Edison, is saying the increase will be up to 17.2 percent for residential customers. The money will be earmarked for the hiring of meter readers and to eliminate vegetation growth over existing utility lines and related infrastructure. The Consumer Advocate’s officer has reported that the 17.2 percent rate hike for residential customers in Jefferson, Berkeley and Morgan counties is the highest allowed. The commercial and industrial customers in the area will see a rate increase between 9.1 and 14.7 percent.
I certainly can support these two initiatives but not how Potomac Edison wants to fund them. Any proposal by a corporation to bring more jobs to the community is one I would support. Furthermore, putting forth a concerted effort to eradicate all the shrubbery and foliage that surround power lines would improve safety and help cut down on power outages that are the result of vegetation damaging power lines in storms and weather conditions. However, it is frankly ridiculous for First Energy and Potomac Edison to ask residents to fund these efforts.
According to the Spirit of Jefferson, many of the residents who attended the public hearings, which were hosted by the West Virginia Public Service Commission, also voiced their concerns about being given several different rates by the utility provider. Countless people went on to say that First Energy and Potomac Edison suffered from unsatisfactory management, and they were understandably frustrated with what they were being told by the utility provider.
Helen Henderson, a resident of Berkeley County, recently moved to the area from Montgomery County, Md. and attended the Oct. 6 hearing at Shepherd. She told the commission and others at the hearing that in Maryland she paid approximately $250 a month for electricity but now she will have a bill from Potomac Edison for “up to $800 a month.”
I would argue that this utility company is taking advantage of its customers by trying to institute this rate hike. They are quite aware that citizens like you and I don’t have a choice on where we would like to buy our water, gas, electric and other utilities. Potomac Edison does not have any competition, and there are not several companies that people have to choose from when it comes to providing these vital services.
The only hurdle for this rate increase is the West Virginia Public Service Commission. According to the Shepherdstown Chronicle the commission must make a decision on the proposal by the end of February 2015. This commission, which is made up of just a handful of members representing a small part of our local community, will decide for all of us whether we should pay increased rates for our utilities. I find it to be absurd.
This is a bill that many people in the Eastern Panhandle and West Virginia can already not afford. A rate increase will do nothing but put more strain on citizens, some of which are already struggling to pay their bills now. This increase will then result in less people spending money thus hurting the state’s economy.
I have not heard a single Potomac Edison customer say they would support this proposal. Increasing utility rates is nothing but a slap in the face for Potomac Edison to request customers to pay more money on their utilities so they can hire new employees that are actually responsible for determining how much electricity we consumed and what our monthly bill should be. This is a service, along with taking the time to cut down vegetation growing over power lines, that we should expect and not be asked to pay extra for.
These rate hikes are unnecessary and inappropriate. Potomac Edison is simply disrespecting their customers by proposing this increase as many people in the area are not prepared to pay more for their utilities. We can only hope that the proposal is turned down. However, I find that to be highly unlikely.