COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) — The fine print of AEP Ohio’s recent filing with its state regulator has asked for customers to pay more money, and the company’s reasons include summer 2022’s disastrous power outages.
AEP Ohio on Friday filed paperwork for “Electric Security Plan V” with the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio. The proposed program has AEP Ohio asking for approval to alter its sources of income in order to have more spending power. Financial projections from AEP’s director of business operations support showed it wants to spend more than $2 billion on upgrades and improvements to the company’s equipment and services.
In Northeast Ohio, AEP Ohio’s service area includes parts of Ashland, Columbiana, Huron, Richland, Stark and Wayne counties.
The plan would kick in on June 1, 2024, and would run through May 31, 2030. Components of the ESP, sometimes called riders, include the following:
- Distribution Investment and Enhanced Service Stability riders – “Will facilitate improvements to the distribution network and reliability”
- Customer Experience, Ohio First and Rural Access riders – Will deploy “technologies and infrastructure that will further modernize and improve the distribution system for the benefit of customers”
- Energy Efficiency and Government Aggregation Standby riders – “Assist customers in lowering the peak demand of electricity and optimizing the use of energy,” which includes tariffs on electric vehicle charging during certain high-usage hours among other products.
The plan also intended to continue the company’s vegetation management program to remove “danger trees” that could strike power lines if they fall. At the end of 2022, AEP Ohio blamed plants coming into contact with sagging power lines for leaving more than 600,000 central Ohioans without power in the heat of the summer. PUCO also recently cleared the company of any legal wrongdoing in the matter, but AEP’s grid regulator did ask AEP to step up its vegetation cleanup.
AEP’s vegetation management program tracked since 2009 has cut down outages noticeably, Director of Projects Mark Berndt testified to PUCO. He claimed plant contact caused just 536 outages in 2021 compared to 2,700 in 2010, and workers removed 44,752 danger trees in 2021 alone. He didn’t have a concrete number for 2022, but expected AEP would have spent $57 million on tree removal for the same process.
While he didn’t directly reference 2022’s summer outage, he did say the company also planned to address the cause.
“By the end of 2022 the company plans to have targeted every circuit that has [customer minutes of interruption] attributed to [trees inside the right-of-way],” Berndt wrote.
The benefits AEP Ohio touted on paper also come at a cost. A legal notice at the very bottom of the application projected that all customers would see a 5.2% increase on their rates in the first year of the plan. From there, AEP Ohio would increase rates by an average of 2.3% annually. AEP Regulatory Case Manager Curtis Heitkamp explained in testimony to PUCO what those increases would look like in dollar amounts, beginning in June 2024.
“Upon implementation, residential customers using 1,000 kWh of electricity per month will see an estimated monthly rate increase of $8.16,” Heitkamp said.
With the average AEP Ohio residential customer already seeing a bill of $158.58 per month, the company’s documentation said that would change to $166.74 under the new plan. View AEP Ohio’s application for the new plan by clicking here, or read Heitkamp’s testimony explaining the customer rate hikes here.
However, Electric Security Plan V and the new rates bundled with it have yet to be formalized, as PUCO has to review AEP’s case and hold formal hearings, according to a commission spokesperson. There was no timeline as of Tuesday on how long that process would take, but PUCO will take written comments from the public throughout the case’s lifespan. Anyone interested can send letters to 180 E. Broad St. in Columbus, or write to PUCO online.