Utility company criticized for not clearing power lines appropriately

FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) - The Kentucky Public Service Commission has released a report criticizing Kentucky Power Co. for not effectively clearing power line rights of way in the state's mountain region.

The regulatory agency said in the report Friday that untrimmed trees growing near power lines in outlying areas around Pikeville and Hazard led to a widespread power outage in the wake of a snowstorm in December 2009.

PSC spokesman Andrew Melnykovych said inspectors called on Kentucky Power, a subsidiary of American Electric Power, to clear all distribution line rights of way regularly, no matter where they're located.

The utility agreed to carry out the PSC's recommendation. The company received permission last month for a 12.5 percent rate increase in part to cover the cost.

Ronn Robinson with Kentucky Power acknowledges he was not surprised by the report. But he says the rate increase will allow the company to devote more money toward clearing the right-of-ways.

"The more trimming we can do, the more outages we can prevent. Whether it's summer thunderstorms or heavy snow," Robinson said.

Although officials from Letcher and Pike Counties are glad to see more money devoted to road clearing, they are furious it took a rate increase to accomplish that.

"No I'm not elated. The PSC ought to lower that 17%," Pike County Judge-Executive Wayne T. Rutherford said.

"Had they already done this tree removal, then we wouldn't have this problem and they probably wouldn't need the raise," Letcher County Judge-Executive Jim Ward said.

Judge-Executive Rutherford also says the county is still investigating whether to file a lawsuit against the power company to recover lost money.

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