Chafin said he requested a trio of hearings with the Public Service Commission after he heard horror stories of outrageous power bills in the aftermath of the Dec. 18, 2009, storm which left 220,000 people without power for several days.
A public hearing before the PSC was held earlier this week in Clarksburg and another will be held in Iaeger, tonight. The meetings come at a time when Appalachian Power is asking for another rate increase after getting one in November 2009.
Chafin said he became very upset when he spoke with repairmen from other states who were sent to the coalfields to help restore power and he asked about the "unacceptable" conditions which led to the outages, which left people without service and caused some to lose their frozen and refrigerated food or get sick and wind up hospitalized due to lack of heat.
"It was a horrible thing," Chafin said adding that while power company execs were quick to blame the incident as "an act of God", power workers candidly told him it was an act of negligence due to lack of proper, required maintenance.
Chafin said line repairmen said the situation was "an accident waiting to happen" due to so many trees which were grown up and through power lines and noted that many of the power poles were old and dry rotted.
Chafin said that when he looked into the matter, he found there was a federal ruling stating the power company is required to keep trees and vegetation cleared from power lines and transformers.
"Somebody is not doing their job," Chafin said, noting that five years ago AEP had more employees on the payroll to keep vegetation cleared than it did now and that the utility company had "failed to maintain their lines" — which led to the lengthy power outages.
"Why did you have to have all those people come in from Tennessee and Georgia," Chafin asked. Chafin said the high power bills in January and February — which, in some cases, were double and triple the amount than bills from previous years — amounted to an insult on top of injury.
"Our people can't stand the kind of bills that are coming in," he said noting that most people believe they are being charged for the repairs made after so much damage was done by the heavy snowfall.
"Are we going to let them pass that $70 million (repair bill) along," Chafin asked.
Chafin noted the high salaries of AEP officials over the past few years and questioned how much of those executive bonuses were rewards for cutting back on the needed maintenance and upkeep of services.
"I was astounded," he said of the AEP executive pay, noting that from 2004-2008 chairman Michael Morris alone received tens of millions of dollars.
Chafin noted that in 2004, Morris received a salary of $1.2 million and a $1.2 million bonus with $9 million in stock options for a total of $12 million that year.
"I had to get this information under a Freedom of Information act request," Chafin said, adding that, in 2005, Morris received $4.2 million and $14 million in 2006.
"Where does that money come from?" Chafin asked. "This is a monopoly."
Chafin said another executive made $10 million in the past five years and another got $8.7 million. He then went down a list of other AEP vice president salaries from 2004-2009. The lowest listed salary was more than $1 million and the total salaries were in excess of $103 million for the execs.
"It leaves you speechless?" Chafin said noting that linemen had to do dangerous repair work in deplorable freezing conditions so their bosses could reap titanic benefits.
Chafin said many customers are afraid they will lose electrical service again because they cannot pay the high bills the power company has been sending out since the Dec. 18 snow.
"This looks like hell for people on a fixed income," Chafin said of the poor and elderly who often had to choose between purchasing medication or electrical service.
"This monopoly has to be brought under control. Don't let them take these kind of salaries home and ask for a rate increase."
Of the claimed $70 million repair bill, Chafin said Morris could pay that out of pocket and have plenty of money left over for himself.