Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Peters May Use Rate Increase as Bargaining Chip

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Peters May Use Rate Increase as Bargaining Chip

Article excerpt

After weeks of unsuccessfully pleading with a local electric utility to reconsider clear-cutting trees throughout the township, Peters council members Monday said they may finally have a way to broker a deal.

The township and a slew of residents in the Windermere residential development, along with those in the surrounding area, have been at odds with FirstEnergy since earlier this summer, when the electric utility hired a contractor to mow down acres of trees and other vegetation under its 138-kilovolt power lines that run through seven miles of the township.

Neighbors say the company won't compromise and plans to cut down even small ornamental fruit trees that could never grow tall enough to reach the high-powered transmission lines, which soar at least 50 feet above the ground.

The township owns open space in the Winderemere development and has met with FirstEnergy representatives on several occasions to plead its case, but the company has been firm in its intention to clear-cut any vegetation that has the potential to grow higher than 10 feet.

According to the terms of a 1960 easement agreement, the company has the right to keep vegetation from interfering with the transmission lines. West Penn Power, the previous electric utility in the region, maintained vegetation by trimming tree tops and cutting only trees that interfered with lines. FirstEnergy, based in Akron, Ohio, acquired West Penn in 2011 and its company has a different policy.

"We have no control over what FirstEnergy can or can't do on their right-of-way," said council President James Berquist in response to several more resident complaints at Monday's meeting. "They are sticking to their guns."

But the township was notified this week that the utility is seeking approval from the state Public Utility Commission for a 14.7 percent rate hike from its residential customers. In an application dated Aug. 4, the company is proposing residential rate hikes of about $13.62 per month for the average customer, along with 4 percent hikes for commercial customers and 3.7 percent increases from industrial customers.

In its application to the PUC, the company states that the proposed increase would be the first in 20 years and would help to recoup the $1. …

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