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Overflow crowd attends Pleasants Power Station PSC hearing


The Journal

MARTINSBURG, W.Va.  — It was an overflow crowd Monday for a public comment hearing by the Public Service Commission of West Virginia on the proposed purchase of the Pleasants Power Station by Monongahela Power Co. and Potomac Edison Co. from Allegheny Energy Supply, all three of which are subsidiaries of Ohio-based FirstEnergy Corp.

From left: Jim Kotcon, Chairman of the West Virginia Chapter of the Sierra Club, answers questions from Maggie Louden, Hedgesville resident, Alice Wilson, Martinsburg resident and Judy Hinnerichs, Martinsburg resident about First Energy’s planned transfer of Pleasants Power Station as residents protest outside Martinsburg City Hall before the 2nd of three public hearing across the state Monday evening. (Journal photo by Ron Agnir)

The hour and 45-minute hearing was held in the first-floor municipal courtroom of Martinsburg’s city hall, which has seating for about 44. The attendance was well over 100. The audience had to occupy the jury box as well as line up down the hall outside the courtroom.

Brooks McCabe, a member of the three-member Public Service Commission, conducted the hearing. He apologized for the small confines of the hearing room and commended the audience and speakers for their good conduct, although he had to remind the audience several times to hold their applause for speakers.

The only untoward conduct was when a handful of people briefly booed state Sen. Craig Blair, R-Berkeley, after he spoke in favor of the proposed power plant sale. He told the booers that they were rude.

“This is a difficult issue and this hearing was very helpful,” McCabe said after the last speaker spoke. “This has been a very helpful evening. We really do listen.”

Susan Small, the PSC’s communications director, said all the comments would be part of the official record.

“These comments will be considered along with the evidentiary hearing,”she said after the hearing. “The PSC members do listen. Chairman Michael Albert and Commissioner Renee Larrick (the other members of the PSC) will read the transcript of this hearing.”

An evidentiary hearing, which is like a civil trial, will be held Sept. 26-28 at the PSC office in Charleston.

Asked what weight the public comments carry in relation to the evidentiary hearing, Small said that is a discussion the PSC members have amongst themselves behind closed doors.

Those speaking in support of the proposed power plant sale were outnumbered by about 3-1.

The 10 people who spoke in favor of Mon Power and Potomac Edison buying the Pleasants Power Station consisted of elected officials, construction trades representatives and one contractor.

Most of the 24 individuals who wanted the PSC to reject the proposal were individuals, who are Potomac Edison customers.

Mon Power and Potomac Edison have applied to the state PSC and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, known as FERC, to buy the Pleasants power plant for $195 million.

Todd Meyers, spokesman for FirstEnergy, said in an earlier interview, that according to a study required by the state PSC and done by the West Virginia University Economics Department, Mon Power and Potomac Edison would start to need additional electricity this year to fill the future demand for power throughout the region, and that additional demand would grow through 2027.

“We’re looking at a shortfall of 1,219 megawatts by 2027, and we’re looking at a shortfall that would last for 10 years,” Meyers said. “There are two things we could do: buy electricity off the market, which is not in the customers’ best interest because the market is volatile; or purchase or build a plant.”

He said the advantages to buying the Pleasants Power Station are that the typical residential customer, who uses 1 kilowatt of electricity per month, would see their bill decrease by $1 a month, and big industrial customers would see a 3 percent reduction in their bills. He said the company believes there would be a $24 million rate decrease overall.

He said the power plant employs about 200 directly and about another 400 indirectly, such as mining coal. The plant pays about $5 million in local property taxes as well as millions in state taxes, he said.

FirstEnergy’s competitive arm — Allegheny Power Supply — is in the process of re-regulating, selling or closing its competitive, nonregulated plants next year, Meyers said. He could not say if the Pleasants Power Station would be sold or closed. He said if it is sold to Mon Power and Potomac Edison, it would be re-regulated, because West Virginia’s utilities are regulated.

The Pleasants Power Station is a nonregulated or competitive electricity generating plant, meaning its rates are set by market forces. Its electricity is sold in Ohio, a non-regulated state.

Allegheny Power Supply is FirstEnergy’s nonregulated competitive power plant subsidiary. Mon Power and Potomac Edison are regulated electric companies, meaning the state PSC sets their electric rates. State and federal regulations maintain a thick “firewall,” or separation, between the two regulated and competitive sides of the company, a FirstEnergy official has said.

Maintaining jobs and meeting growing electricity demands were the points speakers hit in support of the sale.

“I’m a long-time businessman and I’m in favor of good business, and this is obviously good business,” Blair said at Monday’s hearing. “It preserves good jobs. It lowers electric rates. I’m all about clean energy, but we need a complete energy portfolio. We need a broad portfolio for our energy needs.”

Doug Copenhaver said that as president of the Berkeley County Council, he looks out for economic development in the county.

“We are attracting for the first time Fortune 500 companies to our area,” he said. “The Eastern Panhandle is the economic backbone of West Virginia and we need to look for reliable energy. This will bring new opportunities to Berkeley County and reasonable rates.”

Opponents to the sale pounded away at the environmental costs of a 37-year-old coal-fired electric plant; that the sale is a way for FirstEnergy to bailout a failing, obsolete power plant; that the need for additional energy is exaggerated at best; and that the state PSC must look out for the best interests of West Virginians, not FirstEnergy.

“The sale is a great mistake,” Richard Latterell of Shepherdstown said during the hearing. “It’s an attempt to take us back into the past when coal was king. We need to keep our sights trained on the future, and the future is renewable energy. The most desirable renewable energy is solar power, which is replacing coal, is creating jobs faster than coal and natural gas and other fossil fuels.”

Patience Wait of Shepherdstown called on the PSC to look out for Potomac Edison’s ratepayers.

“This is not a case of West Virginia’s needs, but a case of FirstEnergy’s needs” she said. “And FirstEnergy’s needs are to keep its shareholders happy, and boost executives’ compensation. This is a bailout for FirstEnergy’s bad business plan. They are loosing money in Ohio’s competitive market and they want to get out of that market.”

The hearing in Martinsburg was the second of three public comment hearings. The first was in Parkersburg on Sept. 6. The third is scheduled for tonight in Morgantown.

More information is available and comments can be made at by referencing Case No. 17-0296-E-PC.

Letters can be sent to Ingrid Ferrell, executive secretary, Public Service Commission of West Virginia, 201 Brooks St., Charleston, WV 25301.

Staff writer John McVey can be reached at 304-263-3381, ext. 128, or [email protected].

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