Electric bills may once again increase if a request brought before the West Virginia Public Service Commission is approved, and many West Virginians are not happy about this possibility.
At the center of the potential bill increase, which would affect Appalachian Power (APCo) and Wheeling Power (WPCo) customers, is three outdated coal-fired generation power plants that must be financed and brought up to federal standards, or be shuttered by 2028.
In December 2020, APCo and WPCo officials filed an application with the West Virginia Public Service Commission (PSC) to make various modifications at the Amos, Mitchell and Mountaineer power plants. The modifications would bring the plants into compliance with the Environmental Protection Agency’s Steam Electric Effluent Limitation Guidelines (ELG) on wastewater discharge limits and for the proper disposal and reuse of Coal Combustion Residuals (CCR). These upgrades would keep the plants operable until 2040, according to the application for issuance of a certificate of public convenience and necessity.
On Aug. 4, 2021, the PSC approved an environmental compliance surcharge for West Virginia residential electric customers of 38 cents for every 1,000 kw/month to take effect on Sept. 1. The surcharge is intended to help the power companies “recover the capital costs associated with the proposed projects” and generate $23.5 million annually at a 1.62 rate increase.
Now, APCo and WPCo officials have asked the PSC to reopen the case and increase the surcharge for West Virginia customers to generate $48 million annually after officials in Virginia and Kentucky, who benefit from the West Virginia located power plants, refused to approve electric bill charges for their customers to help bring the plants into ELG compliance.
The PSC agreed to reopen the case and held a public comment hearing regarding the matter on Friday, Sept. 24 at 8 a.m. If the PSC decides to approve an increased surcharge, West Virginia power customers will be solely responsible for providing recovery of capital costs associated with plant upgrades.
During the hearing, various comments were made both for and against keeping the plants operable until 2040.
Those who spoke in favor of financing the upgrades stated that shuttering the plants would cost jobs. They also said that the closure of the plants before finding an alternative to energy production for the state is a bad idea.
“Our members mine millions of tons of West Virginia coal that are delivered to these plants annually,” said Chad Francis, representing the United Mine Workers of America. “Today, I would like to reiterate our position on sustaining coal communities throughout West Virginia.”
“Let’s keep the lights on West Virginia,” he said. “We need the base-load power that coal provides.”
Del. Charlie Reynolds (R-Marshall, 04) said that he is against closing the plants.
“I do believe that without anything in place to take up and give us the energy that those plants provide is just an attack on our energy grid,” he said.
“I need those plants to stay open,” he continued. “It will be hard and rates will go up, but so has inflation by seven percent, so I ask, please keep the plants open.”
Those opposed stated that it is unfair for West Virginians to solely bear the burden of a bill increase. They also noted that the state should look at clean energy options and reduce carbon dioxide emissions.
“Many of our members in the state already struggle to make ends meet,” said Gaylene Miller, AARP state director. “Many are low income, while others live on limited or fixed incomes. They simply do not have the ability to absorb additional fees without having to make difficult trade-offs in spending for food, medicine or transportation.”
“AEP’s latest request doubles the initial rate increase from 1.65 percent to 3.3 percent and puts consumers, businesses and industry in West Virginia on the hook alone for $48 million in cost responsibility,” she continued.
Linda Frame, representative of the West Virginia Environmental Council, said that West Virginia residents have already “given a lot to the coal industry” at the cost of air and water quality.
“So, no, we don’t owe coal, it owes us,” Frame stated. “It owes us with a goodbye and a shuttering of its dirty plants, instead of asking us for more.”
According to PSC Chair Charlotte Lane, who spoke before the public hearing, the power companies original request for Alternative 1 (keeping the plants open until 2040) stated that internal financing investment would be $250 million by APCo for the Amos and Mountaineer plants and $67 million by WPCo for its 50 percent share at the Mitchell plant. Kentucky Power Company holds the remaining 50 percent share.
The PSC has received 277 letters in support of the project, including 20 filed after petition to reopen, and 479 letters opposing the project, including 143 letters filed after petition to reopen, Lane said.
The PSC held an evidentiary hearing directly following the public comment hearing. A final decision will be presented to the public in October.
Anyone wishing to voice their opinion either in support or opposition of the project may submit written comments to the WV PSC at its website www.psc.state.wv.us or by mail at 201 Brooks St. Charleston, WV, 25301.
The Amos plant is located about 15 miles northwest of Charleston on the Kanawha River. The Mountaineer plant is located near Point Pleasant on the Ohio River and the Mitchell plant is located near Moundsville on the Ohio River.