PLEASANTS COUNTY, W.Va.-(WTAP) Update: 9/6/2017 8:30 P.M.
People whose communities directly benefit from the Pleasants Power Station's continued presence along West Virginia Route 2, believe keeping the plant there is in theirs, and their residents' best interests.
"Without this transaction, Pleasants County will see the vibrant facility, having undergone massive upgrades in recent years, to be relegated to an industrial graveyard," John Fitzpatrick, Mayor of Belmont, West Virginia, told a public hearing Tuesday night.
But others, many of whom are from neighboring Wood County, don't see the 37 year-old coal-fired power plant the same way.
"Investing ratepayers' dollars in a giant, dirty, aging coal plant exposes them to financially unacceptable risks," said Belleville resident Giulia Mannarin.
First Energy says the transfer of the plant to Mon Power and Potomac Edison, if approved by the West Virginia Public Service Commission, will result in lower utility bills for residents and businesses. People who spoke at the public hearing believe otherwise.
"Why was there a narrow bid process that was stacked to ensure a predetermined result," said Jean Ambrose, Wood County Resident, "and will be an anchor around our necks, as we try to transition to the energy systems of the future."
The company says those energy systems and their needs-along with growing businesses-are part of the reason for the proposed transfer.
"There's more and more of these midstream gas processing plants coming on line, and more and more compressors," according to Todd Meyers, First Energy Spokesman. "On the other side of the state, in the Eastern Panhandle, you're seeing Proctor and Gamble and other types of commercial developments."
Other PSC hearings are set for September 11 in Martinsburg, and September 12 in Morgantown. An evidentiary hearing is set for September 28.
Update: 9/6/2017 1:55 P.M.
The future of a coal-fired power plant in Pleasants County is the subject of a public hearing tonight (September 6).
First Energy, which operates the Pleasants Power Station, filed earlier this year for the transfer of the Willow Island plant to its subsidiaries, Mon Power and Potomac Edison.
Beginning at 6 P.M., the West Virginia Public Service Commission is to hear public comments on that proposal. The hearing will be held in the Parkersburg City Council chambers at the Municipal Building.
Supporters of the transfer, which include business groups in Pleasants County, say if the plant should be deactivated by First Energy, it would mean the loss of hundreds of local jobs and millions of dollars in revenue.
But opposition has emerged in the months since the proposal was announced, saying the transfer is nothing more than a bailout for First Energy, which is headquartered in Ohio.
"We believe in a free market here, and if this plant is on the free market, and First Energy doesn't think it's making them enough money," said Emmett Pepper, of the West Virginia Citizen Action Group, "so they want to use the government to force us to pay for their power plant. And it makes no sense if you believe in free-market economics."
A recent article in the Martinsburg Journal-News pointed out the Pleasnts Power Station is currently not regulated, and the transfer would be made to two companies whose electric rates are set by the PSC.
Allegheny Energy, owner of the plant before First Energy, made major improvements to the facility a decade ago, which included the addition of equipment to reduce emissions.
That was before First Energy shut down the adjacent Willow Island Power Plant in 2011, an independent electric-generating facility that had been in operation since the 1950's.
Update: 6/7/2017 4:45 P.M.
The West Virginia Public Service Commission has scheduled public hearings in three cities, on a proposed ownership transfer of the Pleasants Power Station.
One of the three hearings will be held September 6th at 6 P.M. at the Parkersburg City Council chambers, on the second floor of the city building.
The group "West Virginians for Energy Freedom" had sought the hearings, calling the transfer "a bad deal for West Virginians".
The other hearings will be held September 11th in Martinsburg and September 12th in Morgantown.
One of the area's largest coal-fired power plants may soon have a new owner.
State regulators have been asked to transfer the ownership of the Pleasants Power Station at Willow Island.
The filing with the West Virginia Public Service Commission allows First Energy affiliate Allegheny Energy to sell the power plant to the two subsidiaries.
The deal could be an advantage to consumers, who would see a $1 reduction in their monthly electric bills, based on 1,000 kilowatt hours of usage a month.
But it's also seen as a sign the power plant, in operation since the late 1970'S, is likely for years to continue to be a major contributor to Pleasants County's, and the area's economy.
"We have been told by administration that the plant is stable and will be there for a long time to come," said Pleasants County Commissioner Jay Powell. "However, I believe this transaction is an assurance that's going to occur."
"It's still conditional upon public service and federal regulatory approval," notes Jody Murphy, Executive Director of the Pleasants County Development Authority. "But it's another step toward keeping that plant open."
200 people work at the plant, which uses nearly 3.5 million tons of coal each year, and pays millions in property taxes. It had a major renovation nearly a decade ago of its coal scrubber system.
But First Energy says the major reason for the planned sale is to overcome an expected shortfall in power generating capacity for both Mon Power and Potomac Edison.