Appalachian Power and Wheeling Power want to charge each customer 12 cents a month to help pay for the company's efforts to recruit new businesses and customers into their service territories.
Now the West Virginia Public Service Commission must ask if this new fee is really necessary.
Tuesday, Appalachian Power issued a news release saying it had filed a request for approval of an economic development fund that would be used to generate funds for projects to diversify the economy and attract new business to the companies' West Virginia service territory. That territory consists of the Wheeling area in the Northern Panhandle and the part of West Virginia south of Jackson County.
"The fund would foster greater economic diversity in the company's West Virginia service territory, encouraging the development of new industry to broaden the economic base and create jobs," the company said. "Projects that could be supported by the fund include economic development agency support, workforce training, site development and marketing and promotion to potential industries."
The meter fee would generate about $670,000 annually, and Appalachian Power and Wheeling Power would match those amount with their own internal funds.
This all sounds well and good on the surface, but really, how many economic development efforts do people need to support with their pennies per month? On the state level, we have several agencies already receiving tax dollars to do that. Granted, those agencies aren't supposed to favor any particular power company, but they still receive money from the public.
Locally we have the Huntington Municipal Development Authority and the Wayne County Economic Development Authority, along with a host of privately funded efforts.
As Appalachian Power said in its news release, increased economic activity brings new jobs, tax revenues and opportunities to the state.
In the news release, Chris Beam, Appalachian Power president and COO, said the economic development fund is just the latest in a series of efforts to support economic development. Appalachian Power recently introduced an incentive rate plan to help the state attract new business and grow existing businesses. Since 2012, the company has awarded almost $400,000 in economic development grants and contributed approximately $200,000 to economic development organizations. Plus, the company conducts training programs and provides scholarships for training to economic development professionals, according to the news release.
Few people are against economic development. People will argue what form that development should take, or where, but few people are against it. Again, do ratepayers need to overtly subsidize efforts of a power company to market itself to potential new customers?
What's next? Will gas companies ask for surcharges?
On the surface, 12 cents a month isn't much, but as the old saying goes, pennies make dollars.
It's fully understandable that Appalachian Power wants to recruit large new customers to its service territory because it will be a chief beneficiary, but the company just received a rate increase. The PSC needs to perform its due diligence here to ensure the company really needs this extra revenue and that this surcharge is the best way to generate it.
Many people will have their doubts, so Appalachian Power will need to do an extraordinary sales job.