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W.Va. PSC approves plan to keep Mitchell Power Plant open

CHARLESTON — The West Virginia Public Service Commission approved a plan to keep several power plants, including Marshall County’s Mitchell Power Plant, operating until at least 2040. But questions remain about the plant’s future.

According to a press release Wednesday afternoon, the PSC approved a certificate of convenience and necessity requested by Appalachian Power and Wheeling Power for the Mitchell Power Plant, the John Amos Power Plant in Putnam County, and the Mountaineer Power Plant in Mason County.

“Based on the extensive record before us, we find that the upgrades at all three power plants are prudent, cost effective, and in the best interest of the current and future utility customers, the state’s economy, and the interests of the companies,” the PSC wrote in an order Wednesday.

The companies were seeking a 1.5% rate increase on electric consumers to fund improvements to the Mitchell and the other plants to bring them in line with federal rules for wastewater, and handling coal ash.

The surcharge works out to 38 cents for customers using at least 1,000 kilowatts per month starting Wednesday, Sept. 1.

The surcharge will be used to cover construction costs for the improvements.

“The Commission is very concerned about a likely shortage of electricity that shutting down the Mitchell plant prematurely would cause,” said Charlotte Lane, chairwoman for the PSC.

“We recognize that in the future, for new power supply resources, we may have to rely more on intermittent resources such as wind and solar. It is premature, however, to begin abandoning our traditional base load power supply resources, which can be upgraded to meet environmental requirements.”

A request for comment from a spokesperson for Appalachian Power/Wheeling Power was not returned.

According to a 2021 WVU report on the economic impact of coal and coal-fired power generation in the state, Mitchell produces more than 5 million in total megawatt hour power generation. The plant has a direct economic impact in Marshall County of $418 million. Closure of the plant would result in more than 660 lost jobs, with a loss of $65 million in employee compensation.

Several groups signed on as intervenors opposing the Appalachian Power/Wheeling Power plan, including West Virginia Energy Users Group, the Sierra Club, West Virginia Citizen Action Group, Solar United Neighbors and Energy Efficient West Virginia.

“We are disappointed by the WV Public Service Commission’s decision to approve retrofits at Mitchell that will burden ratepayers with the cost, continuing the trend of higher and higher electric bills – up 150% over the last 15 years,” said Emmett Pepper, policy director for Energy Efficient West Virginia.

“We also believe it was a missed opportunity for the Commission to look toward an economic transition for the communities around the Mitchell plant, as coal continues its long decline in our state,” Pepper continued. “As a state, we need to start planning for this and, once again, we have missed that opportunity.”

The West Virginia Coal Association and Attorney General Patrick Morrisey intervened in favor of the plan. Power company executives and other witnesses were questioned during two days of testimony at the beginning of June.

U.S. Rep. David McKinley, R-W.Va., Del. Lisa Zukoff, D-Marshall, and Marshall County Commissioner Michael Ferro all gave comments in support of keeping the plant open. A request for comment from McKinley was not returned Wednesday, but Zukoff and Ferro both praised the PSC’s decision.

“I think the Public Service Commission recognized the absolute need for the power that the Mitchell Power Plant generates and also understood the negative ramifications of shutting it down early, what it would cause on families, working men and women, businesses, counties — you name it — in Marshall County,” Ferro said. “Had it closed early, there could have been a mass exodus of people out of Marshall County.”

“It’s the best possible news we could have received, so we’re excited about that,” Zukoff said by phone Wednesday evening. “We’re excited to see the jobs saved at the Mitchell plant.

Appalachian Power/Wheeling Power presented two different plans to the PSC: a $317 million plan that would keep all three power plants open up to 2040, including Mitchell. The second is a $286 million plan that would keep the Amos and Mountaineer plants open, but wind down Mitchell by 2028.

In July, the Kentucky Public Service Commission approved the second plan over the first plan when presented with similar proposals. Wheeling Power and Kentucky Power each own 50% of the Mitchell Power Plant. Opponents, including Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron – a Republican – argued that Kentucky receives no benefit from the Mitchell plant.

“It is unclear where things stand now because, even though this commission has approved the (effluent limitation guidelines) compliance work for Mitchell, it does not have the authority to do that on its own under the current ownership structure, where Wheeling Power Company and Kentucky Power Company each own an undivided 50% share of the plant, and the Kentucky Commission has denied permission for the ELG compliance work,” Pepper said.

A similar request is pending before the Virginia State Corporation Commission. Ferro and Zukoff remain concerned that the Kentucky PSC decision and the pending Virginia SCC decision could still imperil the Mitchell plant.

“We do have to be wary of this,” Ferro said. “I still don’t know whether or not Kentucky or the Virginia SCC have any say in this. I’m just not sure that 2040 is totally accurate in terms of keeping it open.”

“This is far from done,” Zukoff said. “We know Kentucky said no to the increase until 2040 and we’re still waiting on the Virginia SCC to rule. But from our West Virginia perspective, this is what we hoped for and what we asked for.”

Appalachian Power/Wheeling Power serves more than 387,000 customers across 23 counties in West Virginia.

Steven Allen Adams can be reached at sadams@newsandsentinel.com

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