Most intervenors have opposed American Electric Power subsidiaries’ request before West Virginia utility regulators to provide new cost scenarios for keeping a Marshall County coal-fired power plant federally compliant and operating past 2028.
The West Virginia Citizen Action Group, Solar United Neighbors and Energy Efficient West Virginia (filing jointly), the West Virginia Public Service Commission Consumer Advocate Division, commission staff, the West Virginia Energy Users Group, and the Sierra Club have submitted filings to the commission in the past week and a half challenging an Appalachian Power and Wheeling Power effort to present the new cost scenarios.
The companies submitted their request last month in response to a Kentucky Public Service Commission order last week rejecting Kentucky Power’s request to implement and recover costs for the upgrades at the Mitchell Plant would keep the facility operational for another 19 years to the end of its planned lifespan.
Instead, the commission approved another plan that Kentucky Power, an American Electric Power subsidiary, had modeled but deemed less desirable: completing only enough environmental upgrades to keep the facility near Moundsville federally compliant and operating through 2028.
But the groups objecting to the utilities’ request have argued that it would violate their due-process rights to examine evidence.
“[I]t would deny the Commission Staff and all Intervenors in the case the opportunity to fully and fairly investigate and submit relevant testimony on what constitutes additional alternatives that were neither considered nor presented by the Companies’ application and supporting record developed in this case,” Heather B. Osborn, attorney for the Consumer Advocate Division representing West Virginia residential ratepayers, said in the division’s filing against the companies’ proposal last month.
The Consumer Advocate Division questioned whether Appalachian Power and Wheeling Power could proceed with a construction project given that Kentucky Power owns 50% of the Mitchell plant.
Wheeling Power, which shares 50% ownership of the Mitchell Plant with Kentucky Power, joined Appalachian Power in citing the Kentucky Public Service Commission decision in its pitch to West Virginia’s Public Service Commission to present two new cost scenarios.
One is for upgrading only one of the two Mitchell units in accordance with federally required wastewater discharge guidelines. The other is for upgrading the entire Mitchell Plant, but with all of the upgrade costs being borne by Wheeling Power, instead of Wheeling Power and Kentucky Power sharing the costs equally.
Appalachian Power and Wheeling Power had estimated they could submit information detailing the cost scenarios by Wednesday, with commission approval, and in the most recent filing in the case as of Monday at press time, announced Thursday that they would not reply to responses from other parties to avoid delaying a commission ruling on the proposal.
The commission, a two-member panel after the departure of one of its members on June 30, has not yet ruled on the proposal.
Wheeling Power and Appalachian Power were neutral on whether Mitchell should stay operational past 2028 when they asked the Public Service Commission in December to approve $317 million in utility customer costs to pay for upgrades per federal environmental regulations required to keep the Mitchell Plant and the Mountaineer and John Amos coal-fired generating facilities in Mason and Putnam counties, respectively, operating through 2040, instead of 2028.
Appalachian Power and Wheeling Power said in their December filing with the Public Service Commission that performing only coal combustion residual compliance work at Mitchell and retiring the plant in 2028 has “comparable costs and benefits” to making the additional wastewater compliance investment to allow the plant to operate beyond 2028.
Replacing a portion of the retired Mitchell capacity with a portion of Appalachian Power’s excess capacity in 2028 would result in savings to West Virginia customers of approximately $27 million annually from 2029 to 2040.
In their filing opposing the companies’ request, commission staff representatives cited technical concerns over modifying only one unit of the Mitchell plant, saying that both the Mitchell generating units share ponds, that surface runoff water from the Mitchell coal pile travels into the ponds without regard to which unit uses the coal pile, and that both units share sluice waters from combustion residuals.
The West Virginia Coal Association asked the West Virginia Public Service Commission to grant the utilities’ request, noting the state Legislature’s passage of a law that went into effect last month which included a legislative finding suggesting that the state take “immediate steps” to reverse its high frequency of coal plant closures in recent years.
There have been 10 conventional steam coal plants retired in West Virginia since 2005, and there are only nine left in the state, according to U.S. Energy Information Administration data.