PERRY COUNTY — People in Southeast Kentucky are talking about their power bills, and what many of them have to say is not pleasant. Customers throughout the region say their electric bills increased drastically in the month of January, although, in some households, less power was used than in the previous month.
“Our bill has tripled over three months,” Susie Terry stated on a petition site about AEP bills, “We both are on disability and absolutely cannot afford this. It’s not the electric costs we are complaining about. It’s all the added on charges. They amount to more than the original bill.”
Household customers are not the only ones voicing concerns for fees that were added onto January’s bills. In Breathitt County, the Jackson City Council discussed increased power bills for the city during their January meeting. Jackson’s Mayor said electric bills for some of the city’s facilities had doubled and even tripled in certain cases from December to January. The Mayor also said Kentucky Power representatives suggested their heat pumps might be the problem.
This is not the first time Kentucky Power customers have felt the sudden sting of fees and riders on their monthly bills. Last winter, similar concerns across the area were voiced loudly enough to compel WYMT to produce a report on the subject. In the WYMT report, which aired Feb. 17, the Kentucky Public Service Commission’s 2015 approval of riders and tariffs was pointed out by Kentucky Power officials. Officials also said one of the riders that suddenly appeared on electric bills was used to recover operational costs and would only be included on bills temporarily.
This year some customers in Perry County claim the increase has hit a catastrophic level for them financially, and the situation is made worse by the declining economy. That is why many of them are rallying around an online petition against AEP that began circulating through social media in late January. Kentucky Power is a unit of American Electric Power (AEP), with headquarters in Ohio.
The petition, named “AEP Is Out Of Control”, has gained more than 10 thousand signatures from all over the region. Perry County native, Jeff Pennington, claims responsibility for starting the petition.
“The petition resulted as a bi-product of my frustration with the electricity bills that I knew myself, as well as many others in and around my hometown, were receiving,” Pennington told the Hazard Herald. “What ended up happening is overnight this thing went viral and once I started reading the comments I could feel the worry, stress and such that people were experiencing. I realized this was not just affecting us but people in West Virginia and other states as well. It seemed that Appalachia was under fire for being coal country. Once the petition broke the 4,000 signature mark I knew that I had to see this to the end, and that is what I intend to do, even if I have to take it all the way to Washington, DC.”
Government officials are already addressing the power bill concerns of their constituents. State Rep. Chris Fugate announced via Facebook that he had received an abundance of calls from citizens about the issue. Fugate asked people to share with him information about how much their bills have increased.
The Hazard Herald spoke with Kentucky Power. The company says 80 percent of its electricity continues to come from coal. In reference to fees and riders, Kentucky Power said some of them are temporary and will go away, some will adjust throughout time based on outside factors and others are long term. According to Kentucky Power, customers often have misconceptions about some of the company’s fees. The school tax on power bills is instituted through the government with Kentucky Power simply acting as the collections agency. Kentucky Power said one of the most misunderstood charges is the Big Sandy retirement rider. This rider is not used to cover employee retirement benefits. Instead, the company said, it is used to cover leftover costs from the decommissioning of equipment. When new equipment is purchased, the company spreads the cost throughout several years in order to avoid raising bills to cover the full amount all at once. The Big Sandy retirement rider is placed on bills to cover costs that are still owed on decommissioned equipment.
However, Jeff Pennington does not believe all of the fees are justifiable.
“What we want, as our Facebook page says; we don’t want free, We want fair. I recently viewed a bill of a person in Lexington and they were charged approximately $109 for electricity. They had an environmental surcharge of $4. I was charged $45 for the environmental surcharge. Based off that alone I think it is safe to say that AEP and the Public Service Commission are punishing Appalachian citizens for coal mining.”
Kentucky Power claims some charges, such as the fuel adjustment clause on customers’ bills, fluctuate based on the cost of the fuel. The company said as fuel prices rise and fall, so does the amount paid as result of that clause. The company also acknowledged that fees are higher in some places than they are others. Cost was the reason given. Kentucky Power also mentioned community development initiatives the company has launched, such as the $80 thousand grant issued for economic development in Perry County last year. Kentucky Power says it distributes about $600 thousand to service area communities each year.
According to Jeff Pennington, the benefits do not equal the cost. He believes the burden of high electric bills has become more than many of his neighbors can handle. He hopes the voices of the people who have signed his petition will be heard and a resolution can be created.
“It needs to be understood that we do not want people to lose jobs or have any harm come to them,” Pennington said, “As you can see from the Facebook page, we are being peaceful and doing things the right way. I have even included a help post so when people call they can be as clear and concise as possible.”
More information on the petition can be found by searching AEP Must Be Held Accountable on Facebook. Kentucky Power urges customers to search their website for information on ways to cut energy costs; kypower.com. For questions about fees or bills, Kentucky Power recommends calling the Customer Service Line at 1-800-572-1113.
Sam Neace can be reached at 606-629-3243 or on Twitter @HazardHerald.