For the second year in a row, Appalachian Power and Wheeling Power have asked the state Public Service Commission to leave overall power rates unchanged as part of an annual process to evaluate the companies' fuel costs.
But PSC Consumer Advocate Division director Byron Harris said the power companies can afford to reduce rates, even if for just a short period of time.
The two companies, which plan to merge by the end of the year, made the request Monday as part of an annual Expanded Net Energy Cost filing.
The surcharge, referred to as ENEC, is designed to reimburse the power companies for their past and ongoing fuel and purchased power costs.
While the current charge is more than enough to cover current fuel costs, the companies want the PSC to keep rates the same to cover extra costs - including plant purchases and bond payments - they intend to take on later this year.
Harris, however, said the matters should be dealt with separately. He thinks the companies should use the current ENEC case to give state consumers a break.
"Rates should be going down," Harris said. "Now they may go back up again because of these other things, but as we sit here today, rates should be going down."
According to the filing, there was a $74.9 million "over-recovery" from the ENEC rate structure last year - meaning customers paid more for fuel costs than the companies incurred.
The companies forecast a $93.8 million over-recovery should rates be extended through June 2014, bringing the total overage to $167.6 million.
Appalachian and Wheeling officials want to use this surplus to cover a series of costs they expect to incur over the next year. Otherwise, those costs eventually would require rate increases.
The most significant they would like to cover in the next year is $129.3 million worth of costs connected to the company merger as well as the purchase of some power plants in the American Electric Power network.
In a separate case before the PSC, Appalachian Power is seeking to acquire 50 percent of Ohio Power's Mitchell Plant and the remaining two-thirds of one unit at the John Amos plant in Poca that it does not own.
The overall purchase has been valued at more than $1 billion.
APCo officials also estimate they need about $31.5 million to cover financing costs for bonds they plan to sell later this year.
The company expects to sell about $376 million worth of bonds to cover outstanding fuel costs and debts from prior years. The bond sale is intended to avert a 30 percent rate increase that would otherwise be needed to cover those costs.