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The financial burden of the recurring outages has fallen mostly on ratepayers — the same people who are spending more time, on average, in the dark.

Utilities have managed to recover $717 million by increasing ratepayers fees, according to the commission, which regulates the utilities.

From 2012 to 2020, the average bill for Appalachian Power and Wheeling Power Company ratepayers rose $31.82, records show.

The average bill for Monongahela Power Company and Potomac Edison customers increased $7.10, records show.

Even though FirstEnergy saw the bulk of its money returned, the company says it understands the need to dole out millions of dollars to clear power lines.

“Because we cannot prevent storms from occurring throughout our service area, these investments in reducing tree-related outages are an important way to maintain service reliability for our customers,” said Will Boye, a FirstEnergy spokesman.

Cabell County Commissioner Jim Morgan said February’s ice storms that severely hit his and five other counties were equivalent to a 100-year storm. He believes it’s fair for residents and utilities to share the cost of vegetation removal.

“Customers feel they already pay the utilities to clear vegetation, and the utilities believe they didn’t cause the storm that justifies the rate hikes,” Morgan said. “It’s the usual give and take. Having lived without electricity for 11 days, it’s like anything else in this day and age. You don’t miss it until you don’t have it.”

Sen. Rupie Phillips, vice chair of West Virginia’s energy, industry and mining committee, said that utility bills should include maintenance and clearing of power lines but that residents shouldn’t be responsible for cleanup and vegetation removal after storms.

“If a storm rolls through, I don’t feel it should be up to the consumer to take in the additional costs,” Phillips said, adding that utility rates in West Virginia are still among the lowest in the country.

Generally, customers wouldn’t bear the cost of removing trees and restoring service after a storm since utilities would consider it part of its restoration costs. But for large storms, the companies do request to recoup the money, officials said.

“Each year you know you’re going to have some amount of storm activity, but this would be considered exceptional or just very unusual,” Moye said of the back-to-back ice storms. “At some point in the future, we will likely seek to recover some of those storm costs.”

The last time Appalachian Power did was for the derecho and Hurricane Sandy storms, although the requests came a couple years later. The commission must approve the request.

Unlike Texas, West Virginia is part of the Eastern Interconnect grid, meaning it can draw power and energy from several nearby states if massive outages occur.

“Regional balancing authorities serve to manage grid operations to ensure that electricity supply constantly matches power demand in a balance that maintains the reliable service of the electric grid system,” according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

“The redundant design of the grid helps prevent service interruptions to retail customers due to transmission line or power plant failures.”

However, being connected to an electrical grid doesn’t go far if electric crews in West Virginia can’t reach the actual power lines.

“We have a lot of mountains,” Phillips said. “Is it hard to maneuver in these hills? Yes it is.”

Morgan said restoring power to homes and businesses presents a big hassle because large trees, and in lesser circumstances, the branches on them, often topple over, knocking power lines to the ground and up hillsides, blocking roads.

Returning power to secluded and rural homes is harder, he said.

“Once they fall, not only do the branches have to be removed, then you have to replace the poles,” Morgan said. “It is a problem.”

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