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PSC sets public hearing on power plant sale


The Journal

MARTINSBURG, W.Va.  — The fight over the fate of an electric power plant along the Ohio River is coming to the banks of the Tuscarora Creek in Martinsburg.

Next Monday, the Public Service Commission of West Virginia will hold one of three public comment hearings on the proposed purchase of the Pleasants Power Station by Monongahela Power Co. and Potomac Edison Co. from Allegheny Energy Supply,

Next Monday, the Public Service Commission of West Virginia will hold one of three public comment hearings 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.

Potomac Edison has 137,000 customers in the Eastern Panhandle and Monongahela Power supplies the electric for Potomac Edison’s Eastern Panhandle customers.

The Pleasants Power Station is a nonregulated or competitive electricity generating plant, meaning its rates are set by market forces. 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.

“(Commissioner) Brooks McCabe will be at the hearing,” said Susan Small, spokeswoman for the PSC. “He’ll give some brief introductory remarks and the history of the proposal, and then anyone who is not an intervenor in the case can make a comment. We want all customers to have the opportunity to be heard by the PSC.”

She said there will be a court reporter at the hearing to record comments, which will become part of the case.

“We want an honest and accurate record of the comments,” Small said. “We also will take written comments at the hearing, and people can express their concerns or support through online comments or by mail.”

The hearing is scheduled for 7 p.m. Monday in the first-floor municipal courtroom at city hall, 232 N. Queen St., Martinsburg.

Small added that such hearings usually begin at 6 p.m., but because of the large commuter population locally, the start of the meeting has been pushed back to 7 p.m. to better accommodate commuters.

A public hearing is scheduled for tonight in Parkersburg and one is scheduled for next Tuesday in Morgantown.

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

More information 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.

The proposed power plant purchase has become controversial because of opposition to it by a coalition of economic and ratepayer advocacy groups. Organizers say about 100 people are expected at the hearing in Martinsburg to oppose the acquisition of the power plant by the electric companies.

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The Pleasants Power Station is located at Willow Island along the Ohio River in Pleasants County upstream from Parkersburg. It was built between 1978 and 1980 for $650 million. It contains two 650-megawatt coal-fired turbines that generate 1,300 megawatts of electricity.

Known as the Willow Island disaster, 51 construction workers were killed when scaffolding collapsed under falling concrete from the second of the plant’s cooling towers at little after 10 a.m., April 27, 1978. It is believed to be the worst construction disaster in United States history. A memorial to the victims stands in the shadow of the cooling towers.

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Todd Meyers, spokesman for FirstEnergy, said in telephone interview Tuesday, 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.

“One of the drivers is industrial development like Procter and Gamble in Berkeley County, and a lot of build out with that plant,” Meyers said. “And the big driver on the other side of the state is mid-stream processing plants for Marcellus shale gas. There’s (several) plants and they are expanding. Those plants have a very high electricity demand.”

MarkWest Energy Partners operates five cryogenic plants in nearby Doddridge County that separate natural gas into its components — methane, propane and ethane — by reducing the temperature of the gas to as low as minus 120 degree Fahrenheit, according to the West Virginia Department of Commerce website. At the extremely low temperatures, the gas turns into liquids.

According to the Department of Commerce, MarkWest wants to bring three more plants online this year and next.

“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; or purchase or build a plant.”

He said that in December 2016, FirstEnergy put out a request for proposals for 1,300 megawatts of generation capacity. Three bids were received, he said.

Two of the bids were for a gas-fired plant and a coal-fired plant that would have to be combined to fill the generation capacity, Meyers said. The cost would be $1.6 billion, he said.

The third bid was for Allegheny Power Supply’s Pleasants Power Station for $195 million, he said.

“The advantages are that the typical residential customer, who uses 1 kilowatt of electricity per month, we believe their electric bill would decrease by $1 a month,” Meyers said. “And 3 percent for big industrial customers. We believe there would be a $24 million rate decrease overall.”

He said the power plant employs about 200 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.

“It is the best plant to meet the needs at the best cost, the lowest cost alternative,” Meyers 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 application to buy the plant was submitted to the state PSC in March. An application to buy the plant also had to be submitted to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.

“We’re about mid-way through,” Meyers said of the application process. “We hope to hear by the end of the year. We have no idea when the FERC hearings will be held.”

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The opposition to the proposed purchase disagrees with just about every point FirstEnergy makes in favor of the acquisition.

“We have a long list of concerns,” Pamela Ellis said in a telephone interview Tuesday on behalf of the West Virginians for Energy Freedom, a coalition of individuals and groups opposed to the sale. She is the energy efficiency liaison for the West Virginia Sierra Club.

“FirstEnergy would be paid $195 million for a power plant we don’t need,”she said. “It’s an accounting slight of hand. Selling the plant to themselves is ludicrous. They’re transferring their risk. The ratepayers will pick up the tab. And they’ll probably close the plant anyway. Then we’ll be stuck with stranded assets.”

Ellis said the Sierra Club paid for a study that found there will be no need for additional energy for decades. She said a study found that by 2030, Mon Power and Potomac Edison would have 14 percent more electricity than customers would demand even without the purchase of the Pleasants plant. Therefore there is no need for the purchase, she said.

“That’s a scenario contrived by FirstEnergy to bail out the Pleasants plant,”Ellis said. “It’s a 37-year-old plant that’s losing money in Ohio because it’s an unregulated state. They want to transfer their portfolio to West Virginia because it is a regulated state.”

The coalition maintains that as a regulated utility in West Virginia, the plant’s profits would be guaranteed by charging ratepayers to prop it up.

The coalition’s study estimated that buying the plant would cost ratepayers $470 million over the next 15 years, or about $69 each year for the average residential household.

An alternative suggested by the coalition is if additional electricity is needed, FirstEnergy can buy it on the open market.

Ellis also said the money to buy the plant should be spent elsewhere to increase energy efficiency in West Virginia.

“The energy efficiency program in West Virginia is one of the lowest in the country,” she said. “To attract new business, we need to not be so over-reliant on coal. We need to diversify our energy portfolio. Natural gas and renewable energy should be more important.”

Ellis urged all residents to attend the hearing next week.

“This is a very important meeting,” she said. “We want to find out more about the PSC members. We want to find out their thoughts, their position. Are the PSC members genuinely interested or is it a charade. They’re supposed to protect West Virginia customers from noncompetitive businesses. If they fail, they fail.”

The chairman of the state PSC is Michael A. Albert, who has served since June 2007 on the commission and as chairman since July 2007. Renee A. Larrick was appointed in July to a full 6-year term. McCabe was first appointed in 2014 to fill an unexpired term and re-appointed in 2015.

The coalition is holding a rally from 3-6 p.m. Thursday at the Daily Grind, 778 Foxcroft Ave., Martinsburg, to prepare for the hearing, Ellis said. Talking points will be distributed, protest letters will be available and attendees will be able to make phone contacts.

For more information about West Virginians for Energy Freedom, go to

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

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