SUMMARY: The entire $443 million cost of the project could be passed to West Virginia customers even though the electricity is shared with Kentucky and Virginia. They have declined. The project would prop up three aging coal-fired aging power plants - John Amos, Mountaineer and Mitchell.

The proposal would allow the plants to operate until to 2040, long slated to close in 2028.

WV politicians for the past 120 years have clung to coal as the state's revenue driver, and only until recently have they approved a few cosmetic projects using 21st clean-air energy projects. - Bob Weaver

WV STATE NEWS - West Virginia regulators are weighing a decision that could extend the lifespan of three aging WV coal-fired power plants versus a $443.8 million cost for ratepayers.

Kentucky and Virginia have already turned down the proposal.

The proposal would allow the plants to operate until to 2040.

The state Public Service Commission considered the options Friday. Some of the groups involved in this debate say the one morning of consideration really isn’t enough.

“This working timeline set by the Commission does not provide adequate opportunity for public comment, as this is a case that widely impacts a half-million ratepayers in 23 counties, from Wheeling to Welch,” said Gaylene Miller, state policy director of AARP West Virginia. She urged at least one more public comment hearing for a longer period, and to include an opportunity for evening participation.

It’s a heavy issue, hinging on whether it’s worth millions of dollars of investments to extend the service of three aging coal-fired power plants — John Amos, Mountaineer and Mitchell.

Without the full array of environmental upgrades, the power plants might remain in operation for just the next few years, until 2028. With the changes, the power plants could remain in operation until 2040.

The question is whether that’s worth the price of increased costs to ratepayers, including average citizens and big power users such as manufacturers.

West Virginia regulators already weighed the costs and benefits once and decided to go all-in on the upgrades. The twist is that 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.

So if West Virginia regulators opt to go ahead, the full financial burden would fall to ratepayers in WV.

Now, the state Public Service Commission is examining the issue once more.

Who decides? The three commissioners include the president, Charlotte Lane, a former state lawmaker who earlier served on the U.S. International Trade Commission.

Commissioner Renee Larrick was previously business manager for the Beckley law firm run by her husband, former state Lottery Director Alan Larrick.

The newest commissioner, Bill Raney, recently retired as president of the West Virginia Coal Association, a position he’d had for 18 years.

What power plants are in play?

Kentucky Power and Wheeling Power each own 50 percent interest in Mitchell, which is in Marshall County.

Virginia regulators share oversight of John Amos in Putnam County and Mountaineer in Mason County because they serve customers in those states.

Who asked West Virginia’s PSC to reconsider this issue? Lawyers for Appalachian Power and Wheeling Power on Sept. 8 asked for the case to be reopened after regulators in Virginia and Kentucky declined the full upgrades to maximize the power plants’ operation life.

The power companies are asking for a decision pretty soon, by Oct. 13.

What would it cost? The total cost estimated during the first consideration was $383.5 million.

The power companies now offer a revised figure, $443.8 million.

That 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.

Who pays and how much? One of the items the power companies are asking for is “an acknowledgement from the Commission that additional investments and O&M expenses at the plants will be needed prior to 2028, and will be the responsibility of West Virginia customers, if the plants are to operate beyond 2028.”

So, West Virginians would pay.

The increased cost to the average residential ratepayer is a little fuzzy because the overall cost bumped up in this latest filing and the other groups involved haven’t had much time to check the math.

Energy Efficient West Virginia calculates the cost would be an extra $54.24 a year for the average residential ratepayer. That’s based on assumed usage of 1,000 kilowatt hours per month.

What kind of work has to be done? What remains for the plants is compliance work for effluent limitation guidelines. That regulates wastewater discharges from coal- and nuclear-powered steam generating plants. The bottom line is, the plants would need to upgrade the technology to manage the pollutants in wastewater to be in federal compliance.

Who is for this? Besides the power companies, the most prominent voice in favor of the big investment is the West Virginia Coal Association.

In a filing in favor of the improvements, the coal association cites earlier estimates of the millions of dollars in economic output from the plants.

The coal association also cites recently-adopted “legislative findings” about the struggling coal industry that were enshrined in state law. One of those findings says “It is imperative the State of West Virginia take immediate steps to reverse these undesirable trends to ensure that no more coal-fired plants close, no additional jobs are lost, and long-term state prosperity is maintained.”

Those broad goals were placed in the section of code applying to the Public Service Commission, so the coal association suggests it’s the PSC’s role to make sure it gets done.

A second filing in this case by the coal association concludes by noting that there could be an alternate way to assure power plants have the backing they need.

Who is against this? Pretty much everybody else.

That includes the big plants that make up the West Virginia Energy Users Group, the West Virginia Manufacturers Association, AARP on behalf of retirees, a range of environmental groups and the Public Service Commission’s own consumer advocate.