Clock ticking for plan to keep West Virginia coal plant open

Apr 25, 2023, 11:33 AM

FILE - The Pleasants Power station at Willow Island, West Virginia is shown Aug. 7, 1978. West Virg...

FILE - The Pleasants Power station at Willow Island, West Virginia is shown Aug. 7, 1978. West Virginia regulatory authorities are on a tight timeline to rule on a proposal that would temporarily keep the lights on the coal-fired power plant now slated for June closure. (AP Photo/File)
Credit: ASSOCIATED PRESS

(AP Photo/File)

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — More than 500,000 homes and businesses in West Virginia would see their electricity bills increase for up to a year or more to extend the life of a coal-fired power plant on the brink of closure under a proposal advancing through the state’s utility regulatory agency.

West Virginia’s Public Service Commission said this week it will allow Monongahela Power and Potomac Edison to move forward with finalizing a plan they project would cost 547,000 West Virginia ratepayers at least $36 million to cover the cost of keeping the two-unit, 1,300-megawatt Pleasants Power Station on the Ohio River open until May 2024.

The request, made at the urging of state Republican leadership, will allow the First Energy Corp. subsidiaries — which currently own two other coal-fired plants in West Virginia — to study the possibility of adding it to their power production holdings.

Otherwise, Pleasants Power Station’s more than 150 employees will lose their jobs after its current May 31 closure date, and the plant will likely be demolished by its owner, Texas-based Energy Transition and Environmental Management.

No surcharges can be implemented until the Public Service Commission approves a formal letter of intent, commissioners ruled Monday. But it allowed the companies to begin finalizing the agreement with ETEM and other stakeholders for commissioners’ review.

The proposal comes as the federal government implements rules to limit the burning of polluting fossil fuels to combat the effects of climate change, causing coal-fired plants to shutter across the country.

Supporters of the plan have cited Pleasants’ importance as an economic driver in the regional economy, generating millions in tax revenue for county schools and operations and employing not only plant workers but also providing jobs for hundreds of others in related fields, like coal mining.

But the plan has faced ardent opposition from consumer advocates and environmental groups, which have described it as “brash” and an “unjustifiable risk.”

The companies project that home and business customers would likely see their monthly bills increase 2.2% — an average of $2.67 a month for residential customers, and $8.44 for commercial customers.

Those charges would be in addition to the cost of electricity, which increased around $5 a month this year for residental customers in West Virginia after the PSC approved the companies’ request for a more than $90 million surcharge, citing rising coal costs. Pleasants would likely not produce power for the companies’ customers or anyone else while the companies assess purchasing it. Employees would stay on for plant maintenance.

During a public hearing last week, lifelong West Virginian and Monongahela Power ratepayer Sally Roberts Wilson said most state residents like her are elderly, disabled, live on fixed incomes and can’t “bear the burden” of higher bills.

“It will become a choice of food or freezing or having a heat stroke in the summer months,” she said. “Too many of us live on the edges of these conditions in order to try to make ends meet.”

Originally slated for closure in 2018, Pleasants has received millions in bailouts from state Republican leaders that have extended its life for years.

In 2019, Gov. Jim Justice approved $12.5 million in tax breaks to bolster the plant, delaying its closure. And Justice — whose family owned coal mines — signed a law last month that requires the state to sign off on any plan to decommission or deconstruct an existing power plant, seemingly with Pleasants in mind.

This year, both chambers of the West Virginia Legislature passed resolutions encouraging Monongahela Power to buy Pleasants.

The Willow Island facility began operations in 1979 shortly after becoming the site of one of the deadliest construction disasters in U.S. history. When Pleasants was being built in 1978, 51 workers were killed after a cooling tower collapsed.

A previous proposal by Monongahela Power and Potomac Edison to purchase the plant, which they once partially owned, was rejected in 2018 by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, which found the plan was against the “public interest.”

In December 2022, the PSC asked that the companies study purchasing the plant again. Commissioners have cited Pleasants’ importance as a wholesale electricity provider, meaning it sells electricity to large grids that power states throughout the Eastern U.S.

The PSC said Monday that mine closures are “compromising homeland security and threatening electric grid stability and resiliency.”

“Public electric utilities in West Virginia should be encouraged to operate their coal-fired plants at the maximum reasonable output and for the duration of the life of the plants,” they wrote.

Pleasants County Commissioner Jay Powell told the PSC last week that he doesn’t envy its position: “Only the good Lord knows exactly what the best option is.”

But he urged commissioners to approve the plan, adding that preserving the plant doesn’t mean West Virginia is closed-minded to alternative energy but that there’s a balance to be struck between implementing cleaner technologies and protecting the grid.

“Some would say, ‘Well Golly, West Virginia is behind again.’ … I think West Virginia is on the forefront,” he said. “They recognize the necessity of that coal-fired plant power plant on a safety and security level.”

National News

FILE - Heather Mack of Chicago, Ill., center, is mobbed by reporters as she arrives in the courtroo...

Associated Press

Heather Mack, convicted in mother’s murder in Bali, plans to plead guilty in US, attorney says

CHICAGO (AP) — A Chicago woman facing federal conspiracy charges in the 2014 killing of her mother during a luxury vacation in Bali plans to plead guilty, her attorney said Thursday. The details of any plea agreement or potential penalties under discussion by Heather Mack and U.S. prosecutors remain unclear. Her attorney, Michael Leonard, said […]

12 hours ago

In this courtroom sketch, Robert Bowers, the suspect in the 2018 synagogue massacre, is on trial in...

Associated Press

Rabbi recounts fear and heroism during deadliest antisemitic attack in US history

PITTSBURGH (AP) — Rabbi Jonathan Perlman took the witness stand Thursday wearing the yarmulke he had on the day a gunman burst into his Pittsburgh synagogue during Sabbath services and began shooting anyone he could find. The skullcap Jews wear as a reminder of God’s presence fell off during the Oct. 27, 2018, attack on […]

12 hours ago

Vice President Kamala Harris speaks during the graduation ceremony of the U.S. Military Academy cla...

Associated Press

New federal proposal aims to stop racial bias in formulas used to value homes

WASHINGTON (AP) — Vice President Kamala Harris said Thursday that federal agencies are taking new steps to stop racial discrimination in appraising home values by proposing a rule intended to ensure that the automated formulas used to price housing are fair. “Everyone should be able to take full advantage of their aspiration and dream of […]

12 hours ago

FILE - Former San Diego Padres Steve Garvey waves to fans before a baseball game against the St. Lo...

Associated Press

Baseball legend Steve Garvey considering US Senate bid in California, energizing beleaguered GOP

LOS ANGELES (AP) — You’d have to go back a generation — to 1988 — to find the last time a Republican candidate won a U.S. Senate race in heavily Democratic California. This time, the party might get an MVP on the ballot. Baseball legend Steve Garvey, who played for the Los Angeles Dodgers and […]

12 hours ago

Associated Press

New Mexico imposes oil and gas moratorium on state land near schools

COUNSELOR, N.M. (AP) — Members of the Navajo community have complained to Samuel Sage for years about the noise and vibrations that rattle their homes. They tell him about the dust kicked up by heavy trucks traveling the surrounding dirt roads and the smells that come from some of the oil and natural gas wells […]

12 hours ago

This photo provided by David Moran shows Jeff Titus, center, who was released from a prison in Cold...

Associated Press

Charges dropped against man who served 21 years in prison for deaths of 2 Michigan hunters

DETROIT (AP) — Prosecutors dropped murder charges Thursday against a man who spent nearly 21 years in prison for the fatal shooting of two Michigan hunters. Jeff Titus was released from prison in February when authorities acknowledged that critical information about another suspect — an Ohio serial killer — was never shared with his trial […]

12 hours ago

Sponsored Articles

Internet Washington...

Major Internet Upgrade and Expansion Planned This Year in Washington State

Comcast is investing $280 million this year to offer multi-gigabit Internet speeds to more than four million locations.

Compassion International...

Brock Huard and Friends Rally Around The Fight for First Campaign

Professional athletes are teaming up to prevent infant mortality and empower women at risk in communities facing severe poverty.

Emergency Preparedness...

Prepare for the next disaster at the Emergency Preparedness Conference

Being prepared before the next emergency arrives is key to preserving businesses and organizations of many kinds.

SHIBA volunteer...

Volunteer to help people understand their Medicare options!

If you’re retired or getting ready to retire and looking for new ways to stay active, becoming a SHIBA volunteer could be for you!

safety from crime...

As crime increases, our safety measures must too

It's easy to be accused of fearmongering regarding crime, but Seattle residents might have good reason to be concerned for their safety.

Comcast Ready for Business Fund...

Ilona Lohrey | President and CEO, GSBA

GSBA is closing the disparity gap with Ready for Business Fund

GSBA, Comcast, and other partners are working to address disparities in access to financial resources with the Ready for Business fund.

Clock ticking for plan to keep West Virginia coal plant open