(04/01/2008)
The state's consumer advocate Bryon Harris predicts West Virginia residents will likely continue to see an increase in utility rates for the foreseeable future.

He says it is not a pretty picture with rising food and gasoline costs.

"Unfortunately it appears we are in for a pretty rough period for all sorts of utility costs," Harris said.

West Virginia American Water, owned by an international investment group, just increased its rates by nearly 15 percent.

The Public Service Commission is currently considering a record-setting rate increase request of $157 million from Appalachian Power Company.

Harris says that's just the beginning, expecting natural gas rate increases to be up for review in a few months.

"Natural gas prices are much higher this year than they were last year and the state's utilities are just now beginning to refill their storage pools and that doesn't bode well for what's going to happen this winter with gas prices," he said.

A Parkersburg-based gas utility, East Resources, has asked the PSC for a 20 percent rate hike.

Harris says the international demand for coal and oil are two factors driving up prices.

Some of the increases are linked to retrofitting coal-burning power plants to comply with the Clean Air Act.


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