CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Customers of Appalachian Power and Wheeling Power would pay more for electricity as the result of a plan the power companies filed Friday with the West Virginia Public Service Commission to keep trees and other plants trimmed around their transmission lines.The PSC told the two subsidiaries of American Electric Power in January to come up with the plan after thousands of customers were left without power for extended periods of time -- some two weeks and longer -- in the wake of last summer's derecho and subsequent storms.According to a news release from Appalachian Power, if the PSC approves the companies' proposal, the increased maintenance on rights-of-way would cost about $58 million a year. That money would be "collected through a surcharge included in customers' bills," according to the news release.Appalachian Power and Wheeling Power customers already pay for about $11.6 million a year for right-of-way maintenance, according to the companies.West Virginia residential customers of the companies who use 1,000 kilowatt-hours of electricity a month would see their bills increase by 2.5 percent, or about $2.38 a month, according to the companies. Depending on how much power they use, commercial, industrial and other customers in West Virginia would see their bills rise between 0.1 percent and 3.8 percent.
When the PSC ordered power companies in January to come up with a new plan for keeping rights-of-way clear, commissioners acknowledged that power customers and utility companies "would likely pay more in the future," but they said the higher costs should "be offset by reduced outages, lower customer impact and less disruption from future storms."In any case, PSC commissioners said in their January order, "it is clear from this investigation that sufficient funding for right-of-way management should not be sacrificed in the interest of keeping customer rates as low as possible."In the Friday news release, Phil Wright, Appalachian Power's vice president of distribution operations, said the new maintenance program would make electricity service more reliable, help crews restore power more quickly when it does go out, and "ultimately reduce some restoration costs."If the PSC approves the plan, Appalachian Power and Wheeling Power would move tree-trimming and other vegetation management to a four-year cycle. The companies now use a "reliability-based" maintenance system, with places most in need of maintenance given priority."Last summer's derecho shined a light on right-of-way maintenance," Charles Patton, president and chief operating officer of Appalachian Power, said in the news release. "While a cycle trimming program will not protect against outages in major events like the derecho and [Superstorm] Sandy, it will result in more reliable electric service overall."Appalachian Power has more than 400,000 residential customers, more than 70,000 commercial customers and nearly 2,700 industrial customers in West Virginia, according to the company's website. Wheeling Power provides electricity mostly in Ohio and Marshall counties, in the state's Northern Panhandle.