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Appalachian Power Tells Virginia Customers Renewables Will Lower Their Bills

About a quarter of California's electricity comes from renewable sources, like this wind farm outside San Diego.

Updated on Friday, Oct. 7, 2022, at 12:40 p.m.

Appalachian Power told its Virginia customers last month that the solution to reducing their monthly bills is to increase renewable power and move away from coal and natural gas.

When Appalachian Power told customers in West Virginia of the coming rate increase in April, renewables were not mentioned. Neither was a reduction in coal, which supplies 88 percent of the state’s power.

“Incorporating more renewable sources of power into the company’s energy mix is another step in reducing customer fuel costs,” the company told Virginia ratepayers in September. “As Appalachian Power adds more renewables, there is less need for coal and natural gas to generate power.”

Appalachian Power is asking its customers in West Virginia and Virginia to pay more to account for the higher cost of coal and natural gas.

If approved by their respective states’ utility regulators, Appalachian Power’s customers could see their monthly bills increase by $18 to $20 a month.

In West Virginia, the proposal has become controversial. Residents, industrial customers and local governments have uniformly opposed the increase.

The sharply higher cost of coal and natural gas is behind the proposed rate increases in both states. Appalachian Power’s Virginia and West Virginia service territories share power generated by the John Amos plant in Putnam County and the Mountaineer plant in Mason County.

The company has sought regulatory approval in both states to make environmental upgrades to keep the plants operating past 2028.

The West Virginia Public Service Commission has approved the upgrades, but the Virginia State Corporation Commission denied them.

Virginia’s Clean Economy Act requires a transition toward renewable energy and away from fossil fuels. West Virginia has no such requirements.

Appalachian Power’s energy portfolio is 6 percent renewable, according to the company.

Chris Hamilton, president of the West Virginia Coal Association, said the savings from a renewable energy buildout was “highly suspect.”

“It’s unfortunate for AEP to denounce the use of coal with its Virginia ratepayers when it’s the reliable, baseload power from its West Virginia coal fleet that allows for the higher percentage of renewables to be developed in Virginia.”

AEP is American Electric Power, the parent company of Appalachian Power.

Phil Moye, a spokesman for Appalachian Power, said the company is “multijurisdictional,” referring to the different states in which it does business. The company serves about 1 million customers in West Virginia, Virginia and Tennessee.

“While legislators and regulators strive to act in ways that are in the best interest of their respective states,” he said, “the states’ approaches often differ.”

Moye said the Virginia Clean Economy Act imposes renewable targets West Virginia does not have, with a goal of 100 percent carbon-free electricity by 2050.

Moye added that the company is adding renewable resources in West Virginia to meet the demands of new commercial and industrial customers.

Appalachian Power is an underwriter of West Virginia Public Broadcasting.

This story was updated to include a response from Appalachian Power.