A $156 million rate hike request filed Friday by Appalachian Power and Wheeling Power is the largest ever by a West Virginia utility.

The power companies, both subsidiaries of American Electric Power, asked for a 17 percent rate increase, more than any utility request ever made of the PSC, said Bryon Harris of the PSC.

If the PSC approves the request, residential customers using 1,000 kilowatt-hours a month would see their monthly bills increase from $64.55 to $73.94.

Commercial users of power would feel the pain.

Since 2006, the PSC has approved $129.5 million in rate increases for Appalachian Power and Wheeling Power.

In July 2006, rates increased 5.5 percent, raising an average customer's bill $3.70. In July 2007, rates increased 10 percent, raising a customer's bill $5.68.

Those averages are based on small residential houses.

The PSC has allowed power companies to ask for rate increases to recoup what they spend for fuel and purchased power.

Of the expected $156 million from Friday's request, about $84 million would go for increased fuel costs (mostly coal) and $50 million for purchased power.

The companies said $17 million would go for scrubbers to reduce pollutants at the John Amos and Mountaineer power plants and $5 million for reliability improvements.

About 95 percent of Appalachian Power's electricity is produced from coal, which has increased dramatically in cost, despite coal's major reduction of extraction costs with mountaintop removal, highly mechanized systems and an ever reducing labor force.

Users of electric continue to increase their demand, causing a continuing increase of purchased power, says the companies.

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