PSC approves moves to extend lives of three power plants, but complications remain

West Virginia’s Public Service Commission has given a go-ahead for improvements that could extend the lives of three coal-fired power plants — John Amos, Mountaineer and Mitchell.

“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,” commissioners wrote.

What happens in the end still also depends on decisions by regulators in Kentucky and Virginia because of stakes those states have in the West Virginia-based plants.

The PSC granted Appalachian Power and Wheeling Power a certificate of convenience and necessity to make internal modifications to comply with federal environmental regulations at the plants.

The commission also authorized the companies to implement a surcharge to recover construction costs. The average residential customer using 1,000 kw/month would see an increase of about 38 cents on their monthly bill beginning Sept. 1.

The total cost is an estimated $383.5 million.

With the changes, the power plants could remain in operation until 2040.

Charlotte Lane

“The Commission is very concerned about a likely shortage of electricity that shutting down the Mitchell plant prematurely would cause,” PSC Chairwoman Charlotte Lane stated in an announcement about the approval.

“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.”

The Commission’s Consumer Advocate Division, West Virginia Energy Users Group, the Sierra Club, West Virginia Citizen Action Group, West Virginia Coal Association, Solar United Neighbors and Energy Efficient were all granted intervenor status in the case.

Emmett Pepper

“We are disappointed by the West Virginia 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,” stated Emmett Pepper, policy director of 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. As a state, we need to start planning for this and, once again, we have missed that opportunity.”

Patrick Morrisey

Attorney General Patrick Morrisey praised the West Virginia commission’s decision.

“West Virginia needs to preserve our Mitchell, Amos, and Mountaineer power plants,” Morrisey stated.

“This is not the end of this fight by any means, as our neighboring States continued to threaten our ability to save these plants. More work lies ahead, but this is a great first step.”

The fate of the plants does also depend on the decisions of regulators in other states.

Kentucky’s Public Service Commission last month rejected Kentucky Power’s request to recover costs for improvements at the Mitchell plant. Kentucky Power and Wheeling Power each own 50 percent interest in Mitchell, which is in Marshall County.

Instead, Kentucky’s commission approved a plan that would include only enough environmental upgrades to keep the plant federally compliant and operating through 2028. The Kentucky order forbid any construction contrary to its order.

“It is unclear where things stand now because, even though this commission has approved the ELG upgrades 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 percent share of the plant,” said Pepper of Energy Efficient West Virginia.

West Virginia commissioners made reference to this complication but concluded they had to make their decision based on the evidence in front of them. “The decisions in this order are based on and supported by the record before us,” the West Virginia commissioners wrote.

Virginia regulators have say-so in what would happen with John Amos in Putnam County and Mountaineer in Mason County because they serve customers in those states. Virginia’s Corporation Commission hasn’t yet announced a decision.

“If there are changes in ownership or cost allocations that are required by decision in other States, the Companies should bring such changes to the attention of the Commission in an appropriate future case,” West Virginia regulators wrote.

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