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State utility commission suspends FirstEnergy's electricity rate hike request

Allyson Ruggieri

Tens of thousands of electricity customers in northeastern and central Pennsylvania won’t have to pay higher rates starting in June.

The state Public Utility Commission voted 5-0 on Thursday to suspend and investigate FirstEnergy Pennsylvania Electric Co.’s rate hike requests.

FirstEnergy seeks 34% more a year in revenues, about $503,848,000. The higher rates would have gone into effect June 1. The suspension could last up to seven months, the PUC said. The commission rarely denies entire rate hikes. The company filed the requests April 2.

The company says it needs higher rates to:

• Automate its grids to reduce the scope and duration of power outages.

• Increase inspections that could lead to replacement of aging equipment.

• Convert about 85,000 streetlights to energy-efficient LEDs.

• Remove more than 2.4 million trees and overhanging limbs that threaten poles and 14,000 miles of wires.

• Create a team to increase awareness of programs meant to help low-income customers pay bills.

• Eliminate service fees for customers who pay with credit cards.

• Create an electric vehicle pilot program that provides rebates to encourage customers to install home chargers.

The rate hike requests cover service to customers of FirstEnergy subsidiaries Met-Ed, Penelec, Penn Power and West Penn Power. The subsidiaries serve about 2.1 million customers in 56 counties across Pennsylvania, according to the PUC.

Penelec has requested a $132 million increase. Its territory includes all of Bradford County, 23,116 customers; part of Lycoming County (Cascade, Gamble, Jackson, Lewis, McIntyre, McNett and Plunketts Creek townships); all of Sullivan County, 3,392 customers; all of Susquehanna County, except for Clifford and Herrick townships and Forest City and Union Dale boroughs, 13,726 customers; all of Tioga County except for Wellsboro Borough and Middlebury Twp., 12,548 customers; part of Wayne County (Starrucca Borough and Buckingham, Manchester, Preston and Scott townships), 3,626 customers; all of Wyoming County except for Clinton, Monroe, Noxen and Overfield townships and Factoryville Borough, 8,552 customers.

If the rate hike is approved, the typical residential customer using 1,000 kilowatt-hours a month would see rates rise by $19.79 a month, or 9.8%, to $220.75. A commercial customer using 40 kilowatts for 250 hours would a bill higher by $66.52 a month, or 4.4%, to $1,576.49. The bill of an industrial customer using 20 megawatts for 474 hours would increase by $9,806.10 a month, or 1.8%, to $558,069.72.

Met-Ed has requested an increase of $146 million. Its territory includes part of Monroe County (Delaware Water Gap, East Stroudsburg and Stroudsburg boroughs and Chestnuthill, Hamilton, Middle Smithfield, Price, Ross, Smithfield and Stroud townships), 24,360 customers; and part of Pike County (Delaware, Dingman and Lehman townships), 16,623 customers.

If approved, the same typical residential customer would see rates rise by $17.31, or 9.2%, to $205. The bill for a similar commercial customer using 40 kilowatts for 250 hours would increase $57.61 a month, or 3.9%, $1,523.59. An industrial customer bill would increase by $4,958.02, or 0.5%, to $922,490.44.

West Penn has requested an increase of $169 million. Its territory includes part of Clinton County (Beech Creek Borough and Beech Creek, Chapman, East Keating, Gallagher, Grugan, Lamar, Leidy, Porter and West Keating townships).

If approved, the typical residential customer’s bill would increase by $16.61 a month, or 10.6%, to $172.98. The bill for a commercial customer would increase $61.03 a month, or 4.6%, to $1,374.25. The bill for an industrial would increase by $1,917.74 a month, or 0.3% to $642,064.14.

In Lycoming County, the 1,416 customers facing rate hikes get electricity from either Penelec or West Penn. About 600 are West Penn Power customers, about 800 Penelec.

Borys joins WVIA News from The Scranton Times-Tribune, where he served as an investigative reporter and covered a wide range of political stories. His work has been recognized with numerous national and state journalism awards from the Inland Press Association, Pennsylvania Associated Press Managing Editors, Society of Professional Journalists and Pennsylvania Newsmedia Association.

You can email Borys at boryskrawczeniuk@wvia.org