(10/13/2021)
COAL REMAINS KING

West Virginia regulators have ruled in favor of millions of dollar of investments necessary to keep three old coal-fired power plants open past 2028 even though their counterparts in two other states concluded otherwise.

West Virginia electric customers will assume the costs of on their electric bills, while two other states, Virginia and Kentucky, opted out, even though their citizens are the plant's electric customers.

West Virginia’s three-member Public Service Commission issued an order today in favor of water quality upgrades that could keep the three power plants running until 2040.

“Direct employment at the Plants, use of West Virginia coal, state, county and local taxes related to operating generation plants and related employment in businesses supporting the Plants and the coal industry cannot be discounted or overlooked,” they wrote in an 11-page order.

The investments to extend the power plants’ lives had been favored by the West Virginia Coal Association. Groups ranging from the Sierra Club to the West Virginia Manufacturers Association to AARP West Virginia said doing so would result in too much cost for West Virginia ratepayers.

“This is outrageous. The Public Service Commission is, by law, required to balance the interests of ratepayers and utilities, with an eye to what’s good for the overall economy in the state. What we got with this decision is what is overwhelmingly good for utilities at the expense of their customers, and benefitting one slice of our economy to the detriment of everyone else,” said Emmett Pepper, policy director for Energy Efficient West Virginia.

“And let’s not forget that this is the government doing this to us. We have no choice for where we buy our electricity. The government is forcing all of us to pay more for these private companies to get richer. Anyone who cares about capitalism and free markets should be outraged at this.”

Karan Ireland of the Sierra Club said the order isn’t reasonable.

“We have a commission that’s made it clear that they are ready to double down on uneconomic coal plants, and West Virginians are going to be the people who pay for it,” she said.

AARP West Virginia called the order a deep disappointment.

“With this decision, the Commission has essentially abandoned its mission to balance the interest of current and future utility service customers with the general interest of the state’s economy and the interests of the utilities, tipping the scales in the favor of the utilities providers and against the West Virginia consumer,” said Gaylene Miller, state director.

Miller noted that most public comments indicated residential and industrial ratepayers were opposed. “Thanks to the swift action of the Commission, American Electric Power will recoup its half-billion investment solely on the backs of West Virginia ratepayers, who will continue to export power they’re paying to produce to others states while seeing their own utility bills escalate for the foreseeable future,” Miller said.

energy state.” The decision balanced whether extending the lifespan of the three coal-fired power plants would be worth the estimated $443.8 million cost for the environmental upgrades necessary to do so.

The overall cost breaks down to $217.3 million for the John Amos plant, $82.7 million for the Mountaineer plant and $148.3 million for the Mitchell plant. The overall annual cost is an estimated $48 million.

West Virginia regulators had already weighed the costs and benefits once and decided to go all-in on the upgrades. But two other states — Virginia and Kentucky — have a say-so in the future of the three power plants too. Regulators in those two states declined the full range of improvements.

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