State regulators have reluctantly approved Appalachian Power Co.’s request to increase by 87% the cost to its customers of burning coal and natural gas to produce electricity.
The rate increase, which took effect last November on an interim basis, adds another $20.17 to the monthly bill for an average residential customer.
“We are deeply concerned about the significant rate increase requested in this case, and its impact on customer bills,” the State Corporation Commission wrote in its decision Monday.
“The impact of the increase is worsened by its introduction during the winter months, which are typically higher usage months, and by other recent APCo rate increases,” the 11-page order states.
While saying it was mindful of many customer complaints made during its proceeding, the SCC found that the utility “is, however, entitled by law to recover its prudently incurred fuel costs.”
Appalachian does not profit from its annual fuel factor rate adjustment, which simply passes along the costs of fuel to its approximately 500,000 customers in Western Virginia.
But critics say the company’s long reliance on fossil fuels — coal and natural gas currently make up about 80% of its energy portfolio — is at least partly to blame for the sharp increase.
“APCo could have listened to the experts ages ago by investing in energy efficiency and clean energy,” environmental group Clean Energy said in a letter submitted to the SCC.
The fuel factor is one of several rate adjustment clauses, or riders, used to calculate charges. It accounts for about 27% of an average residential customer’s bill.
The most recent change represents a 16% increase in the total bill for a home that consumes 1,000 kilowatt-hours of electricity per month, which is considered to be the average account.
Last year, Appalachian sought approval from the SCC, whose members are appointed by the General Assembly to regulate monopoly energy companies in Virginia, to raise its fuel factor from 2.3 cents per kilowatt hour to 4.32 cents per kilowatt hour.
To lesson the impact, Appalachian proposed that it implement the rate increase over two years. The SCC approved that request, noting that otherwise the average residential customer would have faced a $33 monthly increase.
“Even with the two-year mitigation approach, there will be rate shock to all classes of customers,” the Office of Consumer Counsel for Virginia’s attorney general wrote in a commission filing.
“There are no good options for customers in light of the substantial increases in the Company’s fuel costs, and Consumer Counsel supports the mitigation proposal volunteered by the Company.”
Appalachian customers have seen a number of rate increases in recent years that have been attributed to higher fuel and transmission costs, upgrades to two coal-burning power plants in West Virginia and the utility’s greater use of renewable energy that is required by a sweeping 2020 state law aimed at curbing climate change.
And later this month, the company is expected to seek changes to its base rates, which are set every three years.
In its order Monday, the SCC directed its staff to conduct a fuel audit that will evaluate the reasonableness of Appalachian’s coal procurement activities during a three-year period that ended Dec. 31, 2022.
A review by the West Virginia Public Service Commission — that state’s counterpart to the SCC — found that Appalachian “made a number of costly errors” that included not responding to significant market events in mid-2021, when fuel costs began to spike.
The commission also directed Appalachian to take additional steps to advise customers how they may contact the company for bill assistance and to set up budget billing for their accounts.
“We understand the increase is difficult for many people and families,” Appalachian said in a statement Monday.
“If customers are having difficulty paying their bill they are encouraged to contact us by phone, website, or through our social media pages to learn about billing options, resources for help paying their bill, and information about the company’s energy efficiency programs.”
The Boones Mill Town Council adopted its newest comprehensive plan last month. Titled Boones Mill 2040, it directs growth and development for the town in the coming years and decades.
Work began on the new comprehensive plan just over a year ago. Town Manager B.T. Fitzpatrick said it is a significant overhaul of the former plan that was adopted in 2015.
“We just did a complete rewrite,” Fitzpatrick said.
The new plan gives more details than previous comprehensive plans. It is filled with diagrams and graphs to help readers get a better understanding of the proposals included.
“We wanted it to be very visually informative,” Fitzpatrick said. “It helps the reader understand it better.”
The finalized plan approved by the council presents four priority initiatives that include business development, improvements to U.S. 220, creation of a variety of housing types and preservation of historic structures and demolition of existing structures beyond the point of reasonable remediation. Fitzpatrick said a majority of the priorities came from input provided at multiple public meetings.
“These were the highest priorities the public told us about,” Fitzpatrick said.
The three public meetings were held in February and March of last year. That information was provided to the Western Piedmont Planning District Commission, which assisted in developing the finalized plan.
Fitzpatrick said planning for future growth in Boones Mill is important, especially since the town is one of the few areas in Franklin County that has seen measurable growth in the past decade. The town grew from 239 residents in its 2010 U.S. census to 259 residents in the 2020 census.
With the approval of the comprehensive plan, Fitzpatrick said the town will have a better ability to apply for grants to assist in funding some of the proposed priorities. Two projects listed in the plan that could benefit from grant funding are a proposal for a new stoplight on U.S. 220 to improve traffic flow as well as an emergency light for traffic at the Boones Mill Fire and Rescue Department located on U.S. 220.
Fitzpatrick said an emergency light would help in allowing fire and rescue vehicles to safely exit onto U.S. 220.
The full comprehensive plan can be found online at townofboonesmill.org.
MARTINSVILLE — The Virginia Attorney General’s Office has issued a warning to the former New College Foundation demanding assurance that it will not distribute any money until an understanding has been reached.
New College Foundation (NCF) announced on Feb. 7 that it had reorganized and renamed itself MHC Academic Foundation (MHCAF) and would no longer be limited to financially supporting New College Institute (NCI).
NCF was incorporated on Oct. 19, 2006, “to provide financial and other support to New College Institute.”
The Articles of Reinstatement of MHC Academic Foundation (former NCF), adopted on Nov. 1 and effective Feb. 7, list as purpose “to provide financial and other support for the dissemination of education in Martinsville and Henry County, Virginia, including, but not limited to, support for New College Institute.”
On Feb. 15, Senior Assistant Attorney General Ramona Taylor sent a letter to MHCAF/former NCF Executive Director Kevin DeKoninck advising him that NCF was established “for the specific purpose of providing financial support and other support to New College Institute” and reorganizing in such a way as to allow itself to distribute money elsewhere “requires discussion, as well as clarification regarding the funds raised, endowed, or held for NCI’s benefit prior to Feb. 7, to the benefit of any organization or entity other than NCI.”
Taylor said “such restricted funds may not properly be distributed for the benefit of any other organization.”
When DeKoninck was asked on Feb. 8 concerning the new mission of the Foundation and where it plans to use funds outside of NCI, he responded on Feb. 10 that “Over the next few months, in consultation with our long term partners, we will have exploratory conversations with several academic initiatives in the Martinsville and Henry County region, including the New College Institute, that complement the mission of the newly reorganized MHC Academic Foundation.”
He added, “The recent reorganization does not change the status of any managed funds. ”
The Foundation has nearly $12.2 million in assets, according to its most recent Form 990, the public document that nonprofit organizations are required to file with the Internal Revenue Service.
The Foundation and NCI have had a strained relationship for years. The Office of the Attorney General’s letter to DeKoninck makes reference to a Feb. 8 communication in which DeKoninck proposed “to move forward with a Memorandum of Understanding (‘MOU’) between the Foundation and New College Institute. Intervening events warrant pausing that dialogue until certain other matters are resolved.”
In the Articles of Restatement of the MHC Academic Foundation signed by DeKoninck and filed with the Virginia State Corporation Commission, it is stated that upon the “dissolution of the Foundation and the winding up of its affairs, the net assets of the Foundation shall be distributed exclusively to the Harvest Foundation of the Piedmont.”
However, the 2006 document states that upon dissolution of NCF, the assets “shall be distributed exclusively to New College Institute or one or more foundations dedicated to its support.” The assets can be distributed elsewhere only if NCI “may not receive such distributions” and there isn’t any other foundation dedicated to the support of NCI.
“New College Foundation has not applied for or received any funds from The Harvest Foundation since the last grant ended in January, 2017. As such, The Harvest Foundation is not privy to any procedural or funding decisions made by NCF/MHC Academic Foundation leadership,” Latala Hodges, Harvest’s director of communications, wrote by email.
In her letter, Taylor wrote that “NCI asks MHCAF to provide written assurance that it will not distribute funds the organization held prior to Feb. 7, to the benefit of any organization or entity other than NCI” and to do so “no later than 5 p.m. on Feb. 21.”
Reed said on Friday that she was aware of the letter, but declined to comment.
Hall said on Saturday, “We received a letter by late the 21st from the foundation’s counsel, Gentry Locke. I can’t get into that. No comment as to what the response says at this time.”
Gentry Locke is a law firm in Roanoke.
“All NCI has ever wanted is a normal working relationship with a normal foundation, just like any other foundation works with its beneficiary entity. In my years of business experience I have never seen anything as dysfunctional as how NCF has viewed its role,” Hall added.
NCI Board Chairman Sen. Bill Stanley, R-Franklin County, did not return a call for comment on Friday.
Saturday evening, NCI issued a press release, credited to Hall, that states the NCI Board of Directors’ Executive Committee had voted unanimously on Feb. 9 to hand the matter over to the Office of the Attorney General of Virginia, which is its legal counsel.
The press release states, NCF “has received significant financial support from donors who intended their charitable giving to fully support NCI, has received yearly grant monies earmarked for New College, and has received tax-payer monies utilized by the Commonwealth of Virginia for the purchase of the main campus building that the now non-functioning and defunct NCF previously owned by grants. For the past five years, despite continued efforts by NCI to engage with its own foundation, the New College Foundation has completely abandoned and abrogated its sole responsibility to provide support for NCI.”
Over those five years the foundation has “sustained itself on other funds that were previously raised for NCI without the help of the current foundation’s leadership and has obtained Virginia taxpayer monies that were paid to it by the Commonwealth of Virginia for the state’s acquisition of the Baldwin Building,” the release states.
Hall in the release calls the foundation’s provision for leaving its assets upon dissolution to the Harvest Foundation improper and “completely unacceptable.”
“If MHCAF fails to provide the requested assurance, or if MHCAF otherwise fails to comport with the requirements of the Act, the Office of the Attorney General of Virginia stands ready to protect the interests of NCI, the Commonwealth of Virginia and its citizens,” said Taylor of the attorney general’s office.
Bill Wyatt is a reporter for the Martinsville Bulletin. He can be reached at 276-591-7543. Follow him @billdwyatt.
Monique Holland is a report for the Martinsville Bulletin.
For this year’s SML Gives Day on March 15, Lake Christian Ministries will match every dollar donated thanks to the help of a $10,000 match from Lynchburg-based telecommunications company Innovative Wireless Technologies.
The match was donated to encourage community support for LCM and local families who are struggling during these difficult times. Since 1992, LCM has provided food, clothing, household items and crisis financial aid to needy families in the Smith Mountain Lake areas of Bedford, Franklin and Pittsylvania counties.
Now in its second year, SML Gives Day is administered by SML Good Neighbors and raises funds for Bedford and Franklin county nonprofits. This online giving day gives local nonprofits such as LCM an opportunity to raise awareness for their services while giving the community a way to come together with support that will make a big impact for the lake community.
“Inflationary costs are affecting us all, and low-income families are being particularly hard hit as they struggle to pay rising prices for food, gas, housing and utilities,” said Jane Winters, executive director of Lake Christian Ministries. “We are so excited to have a generous $10,000 challenge match offered by Innovative Wireless Technologies that will provide a $1 match for every $1 donated, up to $10,000. Donors have the choice of designating their donations to general LCM services or our facility expansion project. We hope this challenge match will encourage supporters to give to LCM through this year’s SML Gives Day. Together, we make a huge impact on poverty in our community now, when it is needed the most. Our goal is to generate $30,000 during the one-day giving event.”
LCM will have its own online giving page on the SML Gives site, smlgives.org. Donors can visit smlgives.org any time on March 15 to make online contributions to LCM, or any of the other participating non-profits, with the donation window closing at 11:59 p.m. While donations can be made through the SML Gives online site by credit or debit card, checks and cash can also be dropped off at a donor hospitality event that will be held at the SML Pavilion in Downtown Moneta from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. on March 15. Assistance in processing online donations will also be available at this event.
“A growing number of vulnerable families need our help right now,” Winters said. “We ask members of our community to take advantage of this generous matching opportunity to double your gifts to LCM by participating in SML Gives Day.”