More groups want FirstEnergy to defend power plant transfer

More groups are asking the West Virginia Public Service Commission to require FirstEnergy to prove that the Pleasants power plant near St. Marys is the cheapest energy option for its customers in the state.

The West Virginia Citizen Action Group and West Virginia SUN filed a motion calling for FirstEnergy, the parent company of MonPower and Potomac Edison, to seek competitive bids for new power sources to supply its more than 500,000 customers in the future.

The motion follows similar efforts by the PSC staff and the state’s Consumer Advocate Division, which have raised concerns about the Akron-based utility’s future energy plan and comments made by the company’s CEO Charles Jones.

Environmental groups and lawyers representing residential electric customers in West Virginia have been warning since the beginning of the year that FirstEnergy was trying to position itself to sell the Pleasants plant to its West Virginia subsidiaries, a move that would push the risk of the coal-fired plant off of investors and onto electric customers in West Virginia.

That strategy was all but confirmed in a FirstEnergy earnings call in April, when Jones openly stated that the company was going to try to get the PSC to approve the transfer of the 36-year-old power plant.

To do so, Jones said FirstEnergy officials were going to follow the “model” the company used in 2013 when the PSC approved MonPower’s purchase of the Harrison power plant north of Clarksburg.

The groups opposing that transaction believe that FirstEnergy will not be able to justify the sale of the Pleasants plant to MonPower if the company seeks competitive offers for other power sources or by reducing its customers’ power needs through more aggressive energy efficiency programs.

“CAG seeks to ensure that, if there is a need for additional capacity or energy, the companies seek cost-effective resources through a competitive, fairly-administered RFP process,” Emmett Pepper, CAG’s attorney, said.

In recent months, FirstEnergy has announced the closure of several of its coal-fired power plants in Ohio, because those generating units weren’t able to compete in the regional electricity markets.

Earlier this month, Jones told investment analysts that FirstEnergy was trying to “de-risk” by pushing uncompetitive plants into regulated markets like West Virginia where it is guaranteed a return from customers.

Reach Andrew Brown at andrew.brown@wvgazettemail.com, 304-348-4814 or follow @Andy_Ed_Brown on Twitter.

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