By Stephen Smoot
On Jan. 9, the West Virginia Public Service Commission released information about “an agreement to settle a proposed vegetation management surcharge case” filed by Monongahela Power and Potomac Edison, both subsidiaries of Ohio-based First Energy.
By April, First Energy will be in the 10th year of its tree trimming program. The first eight years saw 3.7 million trees, bushes, or other plant life trimmed or cleared along approximately 31,000 miles of power lines.
This includes approximately 111,000 trees damaged or killed by the Emerald Ash Borer along lines and near substations.
From 2015 to 2022, the removal of excess vegetation resulted in a 40 percent drop in total customer outage minutes, “including during major storm events,” the First Energy website explained.
The PSD stated that “the agreement provides for a $17 million rate increase over a two-year period, which will increase overall rates by one percent.”
First Energy explained that “maintaining proper clearances and removing dead or diseased trees around electrical equipment can help reduce the frequency and duration of power outages, especially those associated with severe weather.” It also allows personnel to better access the infrastructure to inspect, maintain, and repair equipment.
The program, however, cannot remove all potential threats to energy delivery to customers. In an information release sent out prior to snow storms last weekend, First Energy stated that “while we invest in our electric system throughout the year to keep power flowing to customers in all weather conditions, the combination of high winds, heavy and wet snow, and rain carries the potential for power outages and presents challenges to our crews during repair efforts.”
The settlement took place between the Commission Legal Division, the Consumer Advocate Division, and the West Virginia Energy Users group. The Commission shall “continue a regular review” of costs incurred by the program to make sure that the hike in charges “will match reasonable expenditures.”