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PSC approves APCo, Wheeling Power plans to trim trees to reduce risk of outages

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The state Public Service Commission has approved plans for a vegetation management plan for Appalachian Power Company and Wheeling Power Company that should improve service reliability in severe weather.

The PSC approved a comprehensive, end-to-end, time cycle-based right-of-way vegetation management plan (VMP) for the two American Electric Power companies.

West Virginia has been subject to several severe weather events, including the December 2009 blizzard, the June 2012 Derecho, Hurricane Sandy in October 2012 and the winter storms experienced in 2013-2014, each of which left thousands of residents without power for days resulting in millions of dollars in damage, including spoiled food and countless accounts of discomfort, inconvenience and disruption of lives. Many customers faced multiple service disruptions over a three-year period.

In January 2013, the Commission ordered all electric utility companies operating in West Virginia to file a proposal for a comprehensive vegetation trimming program to maintain all rights-of-way over a proposed period of time. The proposals were to cover all distribution and transmission lines, be based on the utility's specific operational and reliability targets, indicate how the program would be coordinated with other entities that have facilities in the rights-of-way or attached to the utility poles and include a proposed method for rate recovery of the increased costs.

In its order, the PSC said AEP's VMP is expected to increase electric service reliability and lessen the impact and recovery time for service interruptions related to major weather events in the future. The Commission will, in the upcoming base rate case for the companies, implement a cost recovery mechanism for the program. The approved costs will be subject to annual review and true up by the Commission each year to assure that only actual costs are included in the plan.

VMPs for four smaller electric utility companies also have been approved by the PSC, while a VMP proposal submitted by Mon Power and Potomac Edison, First Energy companies, is pending.