CHARLESTON — West Virginia electric power customers may be asked to pay more to keep three coal-burning power plants open longer, but not everyone is on board.
On Friday, the West Virginia Public Service Commission considered a proposal about whether customers of Appalachian Power and Wheeling Power will pay the full cost of upgrades to the John Amos, Mitchell and Mountaineer power plants.
The three plants need changes to their wastewater treatment systems. The changes would allow the plants to remain in operation through 2040. Without them, the plants would be required to close by the end of 2028.
That’s where it gets complicated. The Mitchell plant is half owned by Wheeling Power and Kentucky Power. Kentucky utility regulators rejected the company’s request to upgrade the plant.
Roughly 60% of the power the Amos and Mountaineer plants generate goes to customers in Virginia. The State Corporation Commission there rejected the upgrades for those plants as well.
That raises a difficult question. Is it fair for customers in those states to receive electricity from power plants upgraded entirely at the expense of West Virginians?
Emmett Pepper, policy director for Energy Efficient West Virginia, says no.
“It’s not fair for West Virginia ratepayers to have to pay for a power plant that other states are getting power from and getting the benefit from,” he said. “It’s not fair for West Virginians to pay for something that’s for Kentuckians and Virginians.”
Pepper’s group isn’t alone. The West Virginia Consumer Advocate Division opposes the plan. So do groups representing the state’s largest industrial customers of electricity.
Rebecca McPhail, president of the West Virginia Manufacturers Association, urged the commission in a letter to reject the plan. She called the proposal “counterproductive” and wrote that higher electric power costs would make the state’s manufacturing base “less competitive.”
Pepper’s group calculated that a 3.3% rate increase to pay for the projects at the three plants would add $4.50 a month to the average residential customer’s bill.
It may not stop there. Changes in the ownership structure of the plants could add more costs. If Wheeling Power were to purchase Kentucky Power’s half ownership of the Mitchell Plant, that could cost hundreds of millions of dollars. Again, consumers would pay.
Pepper said he’s seen that happen before.
“In the past, that cost us a lot of money,” he said. “That cost us a lot of rate increases.”
Appalachian Power and Wheeling Power have said they need an answer from the Public Service Commission by Oct. 13. If the companies decide to pull the plug on the wastewater projects and shut the plants down in 2028, they have to let state officials know by then.
Friday’s hearing gave stakeholders, and the public, a chance to let the commissioners know what price they’re willing to pay to keep the electricity flowing from the three power plants. Even if the answer is not one penny more.