|The Potomac-Appalachian Transmission Highline (PATH) is facing legal challenges over several million dollars in public relations expenses that Calhoun woman Ali Haverty of Chloe says was charged back to WV ratepayers.|
The Goliath PATH project is now defunct, the promoters saying it is not needed.
Haverty and Keryn Newman of Shepherdstown filed the complaint with the FERC, after sifting through company and regulatory documents.
The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission has ordered that $5.7 million charged to ratepayers by PATH, raised by the two women, is questionable and requires examination.
The commission also affirmed consumers' right to review and challenge transmission rates that are passed to them in their electric bills.
State media says it is a twist, the challenges to the PATH expenses came not from states or large corporate customers, but from two individual ratepayers.
By the end of 2012, PATH will have collected more than $95 million from about 60 million ratepayers in the 13-state PJM Interconnection grid region that includes West Virginia.
Haverty and Newman challenged PATH's recovery of lobbying, advertising, public relations advocacy, membership and donation expenses incurred in 2009 and 2010.
They also challenged the accuracy of PATH's calculation of rates, including instances where it documented more than it paid for services.
FERC found that $100,000 of the $5.8 million was prudent.
The commission directed that the remaining $5.7 million be addressed before a settlement judge or, failing that, in a formal hearing.
"We put forth the evidence of things we thought were wrong and we also challenged them on the prudence of the expenses," Newman said. "For all but that $100,000, FERC said yes, there's enough question here."
In its order, FERC also addressed complaints Newman and Haverty filed concerning PATH's claim that they did not qualify as "interested parties" for purposes of participating in rate review.
FERC found that Newman and Haverty, electric ratepayers whose bills reflect a part of the expenses of the PATH project qualify as "interested parties."
"One of PATH's arguments was, if you let these two ladies do this, we'll have to let each of the 61 million ratepayers engage in discovery," Newman said.
That part of the order is a "huge victory for regular people," said Ali Haverty.
"FERC has made it clear that we have the right to ask questions, receive answers and be involved in the process that decides how big or small our electric bills are," she said.
Newman acknowledged that the $5.7 million under challenge comes to less than 10 cents per ratepayer.
"If you look at that 10 cents that we all give them, it's a lot of money," Newman said. "But it really wasn't about how much personally I was paying — it was the fact that they were violating what they were supposed to be doing."
The administrative law judge chosen by the parties is required to report back to FERC.
If the parties cannot agree on a settlement, it will go to a formal hearing.
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