The gym was filled with residents eagerly awaiting a chance to speak before the West Virginia Public Service Commission. Senate Majority Leader H. Truman Chafin went before the commission first, presenting pictures a local resident had taken of the damage caused by the massive December snow storm, which left thousands without power. Chafin explained to the commission that customers were already being charged for AEP to maintain vegetation around power lines, but during the storm, out-of-control trees and limbs were what caused some residents to go without power for four to fourteen days. Senator Chafin also expressed discontentment with the fact that AEP was no longer hiring locals to help maintain lines and that jobs were going to out-of-state employees.
Chafin made a presentation of AEP employees salaries to the crowd and the PSC, with some of them reaching over a million dollars.
“The people of southernmost West Virginia have built the infrastructure for the rest of West Virginia through their hard work and our natural resources continue to support this state,” Senator Chafin said in a later interview. “I will continue to stand up and fight for the fairness for our people.”
“AEP has made an upper management to neglect their vegetation control plan and let the trees take over their rights of way and it was a disaster waiting to happen and is the fault of the power company for letting this happen,” he continued. “No more rate increases, with these kids of salaries it is past time for them to take care of our people and charge fair prices for electricity, with a monopoly goes great responsibility and AEP would be wise to understand this.”
Senator Chafin presented the PSC with two petitions with a total of 5,880 signatures opposing the increase.
Residents took turns taking the podium, explaining how increased power bills have affected their lives and the neglecting of the power company to trim limbs and trees around the power lines.
“It is time to take action and be accountable two the people who have elected you (public and state officials) and made you who you are,” Ray Bailey, President of the McDowell County Commission. “Something is wrong with these figures and someone is lying, we have elected officials to protect us and I didn’t see one bill introduced in legislation to protect us from these power increases.”
Robert Addair, of Upper Litwar, siad that he was without power for twelve days in December and his power bill was $217.
“Power never goes down, it always goes up,” said Addair. “On a fixed income, we have to choose medication or power our electric bill.”
Dale Lee, a teacher at Princeton High School and member of the West Virginia Education Association, originally from Wyoming County, told the PSC that he hoped that they take action based on the complaints being heard.
“These people have pride in Southern West Virginia and they don’t deserve to be treated like like red headed step children,” said Lee. “Don’t give the power company the rate increase.”
“My father’s electric bill increased during the storm when he wasn’t staying at his resident,” the teacher explained. “It is time to give back to these people and give them the answers they deserve.”
Tiffany Bailey, a resident of Bull Creek, explained that on several occasions throughout the year they experience unexplained power outages.
“They don’t call us to and say that the power will be out,” said Bailey. “And when you call them, they tell you it will be four hours but you wait four hours, it doesn’t come back on, you wait six hours and it doesn’t come back on then it turns to 8 hours.”
“We still have branches leaning on power lines from the storm,” said Bailey. “We are working for what we pay for, they sit behind their desks.”
McDowell County Commissioner Gordan Lamber, called the December storm a blessing, because it may have helped locals to come forward with their issues with AEP, saying that these problems have went on for years.
Mingo County Commissioner Greg “Hootie” Smith, spoke regarding the problems experienced in Mingo County.
“Over ninety percent of Mingo County was without power during this storm,” said Smith. “How do you help people without electricity and how do you set up shelters.”
“Why did our leadership allow this to happen, if this was Kanawha County it would be taken care of,” said Smith.
April McClanahan, of Iaeger, explained to the Public Service Commission, she had a $2,000 power bill and that AEP was preparing to disconnect power to her home.
McClanahan explained that she had recently buried her son, spending $9,000 and had been cooking off a grill because she couldn’t afford the electricity generated by an oven.
“In December my bill was $708 and for the last two months it had been right at $1,000,” said McClanahan. “It is either pay bills or feed my kids, which one would you choose?”
The meeting lasted for almost two hours ending at 8:30 p.m. The Public Service Commission announced that a final decision regarding the rate increase would be decided at the end of the month.