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PSC hearings on Mitchell Plant begin

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Tuesday was the start of at least two days of testimony and questioning at the Public Service Commission in Charleston for an evidentiary hearing into a rate increase that could expand the life of the Mitchell Power Plant in Marshall County.

PSC commissioners heard testimony all day Tuesday from executives with Appalachian Power Company and Wheeling Power Company regarding a request for approval of certificates of public convenience and necessity from the PSC.

The companies are seeking a 1.5% rate increase on electric consumers to fund improvements to the Mitchell Power Plant, the Amos Plant in Putnam County, and the Mountaineer Plant in Mason County. The planned improvements will bring the power plants in line with federal rules for wastewater, and handling coal ash.

The finalized coal ash rules require the companies to inform the state Department of Environmental Protection by Oct. 13 whether they intend to retire Mitchell.

The PSC’s pending decision on the companies’ certificate will determine whether Mitchell stays open past 2028.

Christian Beam, president and CEO of Appalachian Power, was questioned by groups in support of the request, such as the West Virginia Coal Association. Beam also faced questions from opponents, such as the Sierra Club, the Citizens Action Group, the West Virginia Energy Users Group, and Energy Efficient West Virginia.

“We’re really concerned about the economy in the area long-term and that we start looking for an economic transition for our economy,” said Emmett Pepper, legal and policy director for Energy Efficient West Virginia. “What we’ve found is that in order to transition the economy … it would actually be cheaper than trying to keep this coal plant online for longer than is economic.”

Last week, the PSC heard public comments for and against the Mitchell plant. U.S. Rep. David McKinley, R-W.Va., Del. Lisa Zukoff, D-Marshall, and Marshall County Commissioner Michael Ferro all gave comments in support of keeping the plant open. Ferro also attended Tuesday’s evidentiary hearing.

“What concerns me the most about all of this is the negative effect it can have on all the families of the workers not only at the Mitchell plant, but all the other businesses this could effect, what it could do to our miners, and all the ancillary businesses down the road,” Ferro said. “We, as the Marshall County Commission, have an interest in this because of the tax base and what it could do to our budget and some of the services we provide.”

There were two proposals presented by the company. One is a $317 million plan that would keep all three power plants open up to 2040, including Mitchell. The second is a $286 million plan that would keep the Amos and Mountaineer plants open, but wind down Mitchell by 2028.

“I think the company’s job is to present to the commission what the best thing is for our customer,” Beam said. “What we have done is present to the commissioners what the impact to the cost on our customers is and (the PSC) can evaluate the other things they’re responsible for and use that as an input to their evaluation.”

Also testifying Tuesday were Gary Spitznogle, vice president for environmental services with American Electric Power Service Corporation (AEPSC); Brian Sherrick, managing director of projects, generation projects controls and construction for AEPSC; and Connie Trecazzi, a staff economic forecast analyst for AEPSC.

The commissioners also heard from John Deskins, director of the Bureau of Business and Economic Research at West Virginia University, who testified on the economic effects of the Mitchell plant shutting down on behalf of the West Virginia Coal Association.

According to a 2021 WVU report on the economic impact of coal and coal-fired power generation in the state, Mitchell produces more than 5 million in total megawatt hour power generation. The plant has a direct economic impact in Marshall County of $418 million.

Closure of the plant would result in more than 660 lost jobs, with a loss of $65 million in employee compensation.

Ferro is also concerned about families moving out of the county to neighboring states to find new jobs. He is concerned about the coal industry in Marshall County, which produces more coal than any other county in the state.

“We have 1,300 miners in our mines in Marshall County,” Ferro said. “The negative impact this could have could severely hamper and hinder the coal industry and the miners who are my friends and their families.”

With President Joe Biden setting a goal of cutting greenhouse gas emissions by as much as 52 percent of 2005 levels by 2030 and much of his proposed infrastructure plan devoted to mitigating climate change, Pepper said now is the time for transitioning away from coal-fired power.

“It doesn’t have to be an energy economy. There are plenty of places that don’t base their economy around energy,” Pepper said.

“This is an opportunity. Right now, we’re seven years out. We can start to make those plans and invest in the economy locally in the Moundsville and New Martinsville area.”

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