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Appalachian Power defends new surcharge request, industry files responses

CHARLESTON — As the West Virginia Public Service Commission prepares to hear public comments and new evidence this Friday in a new Appalachian Power/Wheeling Power surcharge request to keep three power plants operating past 2028, two industry groups butted heads.

Appalachian Power and Wheeling Power are seeking a 3.3 percent increase for ratepayers — up from the 1.62 percent approved by the PSC in August — for environmental improvements to the Mitchell Power Plant in Marshall County, the John Amos Power Plant in Putnam County, and the Mountaineer Power Plant in Mason County.

Appalachian Power and Wheeling Power are seeking the additional increase to bring the power plants in line with federal rules for wastewater, and handling coal ash after Kentucky’s PSC denied a surcharge request for the half of the Mitchell Power Plant owned by Kentucky Power.

The Virginia State Corporation Commission also denied part of a request for cost recovery for improvements to Amos and Mountaineer.

If the West Virginia PSC approves Appalachian Power and Wheeling Power’s amended surcharge request, the cost for West Virginia ratepayers would increase from $23.5 million to $48 million. The companies are asking the commission to rule on their request by Oct. 13 when the companies must inform the state Department of Environmental Protection whether they intend to keep the plants operating beyond 2028.

The PSC scheduled a public comment period from 8 a.m. to 9 a.m. Friday at its offices in Charleston in the reopened case with an evidentiary hearing taking place at 9:30 a.m.

Environmental and public interest groups – such as the West Virginia Citizen Action Group, Solar United Neighbors and Energy Efficient West Virginia – submitted a filing last week opposing the new surcharge plan, accusing the companies of forcing all West Virginians to bear the costs while not amending their plans. They also accused the companies of pressuring the PSC to make a quick decision.

Attorneys for Appalachian Power and Wheeling Power submitted a reply Monday to the claims made by the environmental and public interest groups. Counsel Anne Blankenship said the Oct. 13 DEP deadline was crucial and that there was no time for normal due process.

“The Companies are seeking guidance from the Commission in light of the inherent conflict among the Kentucky, Virginia, and West Virginia decisions; they are not trying to pull the rug out from underneath the intervenors,” Blankenship wrote.

“The Companies do not seek to deny the parties an opportunity to be heard,” Blankenship continued. “The path the Companies seek is an attempt to recognize their opportunity for input within the available timing. This is achieved by reopening this case with its developed record on many of the same issues and the addition of further testimony for the consideration of the Commission and other parties.”

Blankenship wrote that despite the additional cost to ratepayers, the economic benefits of making the improvements at the three power plants and keeping them open past 2028 would outweigh the costs to the wallets and pocketbooks of ratepayers in West Virginia.

“The Intervenors have lost sight of the forest for the trees in accusing the Companies of trying to foist unjust and unreasonable rates on their customers,” Blankenship said. “… The Intervenors pay no attention to the economic benefits outlined by the Commission of the continued operation of the plants to the local and state economies or to the loss of capacity in the event of retirement.”

The West Virginia Coal Association agreed. In filing Monday, Coal Association attorney Jacob Altmeyer cited Senate Bill 542, passed during the 2021 legislative session, stating that “It is imperative the State of West Virginia take immediate steps to reverse … trends to ensure that no more coal-fired plants close, no additional jobs are lost, and long-term state prosperity is maintained …

“When coupled with the Commissions’ regulatory duty to protect coal-fired power plants in West Virginia and make every reasonable effort to keep them operating, and considering ‘the interests of current and future utility service customers [and] the general interests of the state’s economy,’ this Commission must act now to preserve these plants beyond 2028 in order to protect all parties it is tasked with protecting,” Altmeyer wrote.

In response Monday, attorneys for the West Virginia Energy Users Group – an organization representing large industry electrical customers – disagreed with the Coal Association. They called any affirmative decision by the PSC to grant the amended request from Appalachian Power and Wheeling Power “unlawful.”

“The Commission has no authority to grant the Companies’ request and to do so would be in violation of West Virginia and Federal law,” wrote Barry Naum, counsel for WVEUG.

“As already noted, the Commission did its level best with its August 4 Order and has thus fulfilled any obligation to ‘take steps’ in furtherance of this legislative goal,” Naum continued. “That action has failed as a result of the decisions of other jurisdictions that are not subject to the provisions of the West Virginia Code. The Commission cannot, and should not, now take steps in contravention of its other statutory obligations in order to pursue the narrow legislative objective favored by the Coal Association.”

(Adams can be contacted at sadams@newsandsentinel.com)

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