Legislative Update

Wednesday February 29 was the deadline for bills to make it out of their house of origin and move from the House to the Senate or vice versa.  Unfortunately our bills to promote energy efficiency did not make it out of committee, mainly due to power company and coal industry opposition.  The "least-cost planning" legislation (SB 162 / HB 4646) failed to make it onto any committee's agenda; this bill would have required power companies to submit long-term plans to the Public Service Commission showing how they could meet future electricity demand at the lowest cost to their customers.  This bill was opposed by the power companies and also the coal industry who wanted all mention of "least cost" removed from the bill; the coal lobby argued that the bill would kill jobs by forcing some coal power plants to be shut down - essentially admitting that their persistent claim that they are the cheapest source of power for West Virginia is bogus. Additionally, it has been proven in Ohio, Pennsylvania and numerous other states that investing in energy efficiency, which is generally the lowest cost option, creates jobs. This further proves that these groups are not acting in the best interest of WV citizens.

We were hoping to have our least-cost planning language amended into the bond bill that Appalachian Power was promoting.  This bill, which gives the Public Service Commission the authority to let Appalachian Power float a bond to spread their projected rate increase over ten years, was passed out of the House and is now coming to the Senate floor for a vote.  We were hoping that legislators would recognize the need for better long-term planning to avoid the sort of crisis that led to Appalachian Power proposing this bonding mechanism to deal with their $350 million coal debt, but unfortunately there was not enough support for amending least-cost planning into the bond bill.  

Our efforts at the legislature did result in a successful amendment to limit the scope of Appalachian Power's bond bill, however.  As originally written, the bill would have allowed any utility to come to the PSC and ask to float a bond to cover their current or projected fuel costs - which we feared would make a habit of pushing expensive fuel costs onto future ratepayers instead of dealing with the underlying problems of poor utility planning.  The bill was amended so that it specifically only deals with Appalachian Power's current fuel debt.  Our efforts have also led to ongoing conversations with the Public Service Commission and some sympathetic legislators about how to improve long-term utility planning.