Many Valley residents are struggling to make ends meet, including on electricity bills.
Shenandoah Valley Electric Cooperative is proposing another unjustified rate increase that will disproportionately harm low-income customers and those on fixed incomes. If approved, the increases will make it harder for all customers to control monthly electric bills through smart investments in energy efficiency and rooftop solar.
SVEC is asking the Virginia State Corporation Commission to approve a 20% increase in the basic customer or "connection" charge, raising it from $25 to $30 per month. It also seeks a new "demand charge" that will further increase monthly bills for residential customers.
The result could be that SVEC customers will pay basic connection charges up to three to four times more than their neighbors who have electric service from other utilities. Dominion Energy customers pay a $6.58 basic customer charge and members of neighboring Rappahannock Electric Co-op pay $14 a month. Neither of those utilities has a demand charge for residential customers.
The proposed increase is the latest in recent years for SVEC customers. SVEC increased its fixed charge from $13.76 to $25 within the last 18 months and now proposes to raise it again to $30 — a 118% increase in this charge since 2019. Approval of the proposed increase will mean nearly one-third of the average residential monthly bill will be a fixed charge — one you can’t reduce by energy conservation, efficiency or investment in solar or wind. In short, SVEC customers will have less ability to reduce and control their monthly electric bills.
Expert testimony to the SCC argues SVEC’s proposal is unnecessary. That expert testimony calls it unjustified and economically regressive, imposing extreme burdens on low-use and low-income customers at a time when many families in SVEC’s service territory are struggling to recover from an economic downturn. The testimony notes that the proposal encourages SVEC’s management toward overbuilding, economic waste and fiscal irresponsibility.
We have an opportunity to stop SVEC’s proposal. Members like myself and a broad coalition are urging the SCC to deny this request. If you’re interested in fair electric rates, you can oppose this increase too.
On Oct. 6 at 10 a.m., the State Corporation Commission will hold a virtual public hearing on SVEC’s proposal. You, other SVEC members and the general public can submit written comments through Sept. 29. If you sign up to testify at the hearing by Oct. 4, you will have five minutes to give your oral testimony. You do not need to file written comments to speak on Oct. 6.
A growing group of Valley residents wants to protect low-income homeowners and retirees on fixed incomes. Extensive testimony to the SCC reports that about 17% of SVEC’s (~14,800) households would qualify as low-income (meaning an average income of $16,206 annually). These households tend to be lower-energy users. SVEC’s higher fixed charge would affect these members most because those homes use the least energy.
Denying SVEC’s proposal will protect commonsense investments in conservation and rooftop solar. Higher fixed charges give members less ability to reduce monthly bills with smart investments in these technologies, which create jobs and build clean, local energy in our community.
Denying SVEC’s proposal will also demand accountability from our monopoly utility that makes decisions with very little accountability — and visibility — to customers. SVEC members are not permitted to attend its board meetings to give input into decisions that affect their utility bills. As captive customers, we have very little voice in these decisions.
How can you make your voice heard about decisions that affect our pocketbooks?
You can ask the SCC to protect us from this rate increase. I urge you to join this coalition of folks to demand fair rates. I urge you to join me in fighting this unfair proposal.
You can tell the SCC what you think and ask it to deny SVEC’s application.
1. Make written comments at https://scc.virginia.gov/casecomments/comment/PUR-2021-00054.
2. Make a five-minute oral comment at the Oct. 6 hearing. To do so, you must:
a. Fill out the Public Witness Form on the commission’s website at https://scc.virginia.gov/pages/Webcasting; OR
c. Call 804-371-9141 during normal business hours.
3. Learn more by joining Wednesday's virtual forum at 6:30 p.m., sponsored by Appalachian Voices; register at https://tinyurl.com/hcfpthbu.
Robert Spiller lives in Penn Laird.