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CHARLESTON — On the eve of the evidentiary hearing to decide whether taxpayers should shell out more money in order to keep the Pleasants Power plant idle, supporters and opponents of the plan made their voices heard Thursday.

The West Virginia Public Service Commission held a public comment hearing Thursday afternoon, the day before it is due to hold an affirmative action hearing on the plan from FirstEnergy Corp. affiliates. Monongahela Power Co. Ltd. and Potomac Edison Co. To keep Pleasants Power open for 12 months while you consider buying the plant.

Mon Power and Potomac Edison issued a report on March 31 proposing to lease Pleasants Power from Texas-based Transition Energy and Environmental Management (ETEM) and the company is set to begin demolition of the plant, which closes after May 31. The factory is open from June to May 2024.

The plant will no longer provide power, but it will keep the 154 employees employed and keep the plant running if Mon Power and Potomac Edison decide to purchase the plant from ETEM and start generating electricity again.

Commissioners heard from eight speakers Thursday, including four for the plan and three against the plan. Jay Powell, chairman of the Plant County Commission, urged the commissioner to keep the plant running while Moon Power and Potomac Edison weighed the possibility of buying the plant.

“We can’t save them all. I get that, but Pleasants Power is worth saving for a variety of reasons,” Powell said. “It’s worth saving for safety, security, and ultimately even the economy on multiple levels from a lineage payer’s point of view and a West Virginian’s point of view.”

Delegates Trenton Barnhart, R-Pleasants, and Charles Sheedy, R-Marshall, also spoke in favor of keeping the plant open. Barnhart was the lead sponsor of a non-binding resolution in the House of Delegates expressing support for Moon Power and Potomac Edison to purchase the plant, while the Sheedy area includes two coal mines that supply coal for the plant.

“Charcoal keeps the lights on, and Pleasants Power keeps Pleasants County moving forward,” Barnhart said. “It’s everything to our community. Pleasants Power is so much more than jobs and tax returns that I’ve alluded to; it’s our way of life in Pleasants County. It’s the backbone of our economy, and it’s the fabric that binds our communities together in every possible way.”

“This is a prudent and appropriate course of action that will ensure the long-term viability of the plant and the communities it serves,” Sheedy said. “By keeping the plant running and retaining all workers, we can ensure that it remains a vital part of our power infrastructure and contributes to the reliability of the electrical grid.”

In order to cover the costs of keeping the plant running and paying employees for one year, companies are seeking a temporary surcharge to cover the costs of paying ETEM to keep the plant open. The two companies are seeking a temporary additional fee of $36 million to be paid by the companies’ residential, commercial and industrial clients.

The additional cost will increase costs for Mon Power/Potomac Edison residential customers by $2.67 per month, $8.44 per month for commercial customers and $4,416 per month for industrial customers. The companies admitted in a supplemental filing last week that there could be additional costs and risks in excess of $36 million.

Pleasants Power plan opponents who spoke Thursday said it was unfair to place the burden of keeping the plant operating on ratepayers who receive no direct benefit from the plant. Opponents also pointed to the need to move away from fossil fuels and renewable energy sources.

“I am here to state my opposition to the acquisition of Pleasants Power station due to the potential impact on my rates and monthly bill,” said Sally Roberts Wilson, a Mon Power customer of Morgantown. “Citizens of West Virginia should not be required to bear costs… it will become to choose food, to freeze, or to suffer heatstroke in the summer months.”

“One of the things we all share is that we want to pass on a better world to our children; they have better lives than we did,” said Perry Bryant, co-founder of the West Virginia Climate Coalition. “If we don’t change our behavior, we can’t do it… We must.” We take this responsibility very seriously and understand how difficult the transition can be and how important it is if we are going to leave our children a clean world.”

The companies are seeking a decision from the three-member PSC by Tuesday, April 25, creating a narrow window for commissioners to make a decision and an even narrower window for the public to comment on the proposal.

According to a review of public comment available by West Virginians for Energy Freedom (WV4EF), a coalition of environmental and consumer advocacy organizations that oppose the Pleasants Power Plan, 798 public comment was received between April 5 and April 19, with 457 comments in support of the plan and 341 comments in opposition.

Of that issue, 145 comments came from plant workers, former workers, contractors who work at the plant, and the coal industry that supplies the plant. Another 279 comments came from supporters in the Pleasants County area.

But according to WV4EF, 144 comments opposing the plan came from in-state customers of Mon Power and Potomac Edison, which provide power to customers in north-central West Virginia and the Eastern Panhandle. Fewer than 30 comments came from supporters of the bailout in those areas. Mon Power and Potomac Edison serve over 395,000 customers.

Pleasants Power is a 1,300 MW commercial coal-fired power plant that sells electricity in the wholesale market rather than a traditional power plant serving residential, commercial and industrial customers directly through a utility. The plant was spun off from Allegheny Energy Supply — another subsidiary of FirstEnergy — to FirstEnergy Solutions during its bankruptcy a few years ago. FirstEnergy Solutions became Energy Harbor after emerging from bankruptcy.

The plant was scheduled to close in 2018. The decommissioning of the plant was moved to 2024 but was put on hold in 2019 after the legislature passed a bill in special session to provide FirstEnergy Solutions with an annual respite of $12.5 million in business and occupancy taxes for the plant . Energy Harbor announced in March that it would close the plant starting May 31.

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