Coal chief suggests partial state stake in fading power plant

The president of the West Virginia Coal Association proposes partial government ownership of an economically threatened power plant.

Chris Hamilton

Chris Hamilton make this pitch at the recently restored West Virginia Public Energy Authority in support of Pleasants Power Station, which is expected to be sold or decommissioned by 2023.

“We think it’s important that the state look to the Public Energy Authority, seek to acquire an equity stake to stay more involved with this plant in the future so that this plant can continue to operate,” Hamilton said today. on MetroNews’ “Talkline” today.

The owner of the plant, Energy Harbor, announced that, as part of its transition to a carbon-free business, it will sell or decommission plants including the Pleasants power station on Willow Island in 2023.

Energy Harbor has filed deactivation notices with PJM Interconnection, the regional transportation organization. Plant deactivations are subject to review by PJM for effects on reliability.

The state has already done much to ease the economic pressures on the factory.

In the summer of 2019, Governor Jim Justice introduced a bill in a special session of the Legislature to eliminate the trade and business tax for the Pleasants Power Plant. The owner, First Energy Solutions, was bankrupt at the time and emerged as Energy Harbor.

The tax had raised about $12.5 million a year for the state, but lawmakers overwhelmingly decided they should try to protect the jobs of 160 power plant employees. Officials also noted that the plant was supplied with coal from West Virginia.

Now Hamilton is asking for support from the Public Energy Authority, which Justice reactivated at his request last year.

The Public Energy Authority was created in the 1980s under Governor Arch Moore’s administration to build coal-fired power plants, but this effort ended up fizzling. The authority was reconstituted under the Manchin administration, but then met irregularly.

The agency has broad capacity to acquire power generation facilities or provide financial support for power generation.

The extensive powers of authority would enable it to acquire or sell any electrical energy or natural gas transmission project. The authority could also finance electricity or natural gas transmission projects by granting guaranteed loans. Or it could issue bonds to finance the costs of energy projects. The council also has eminent domain authority for such projects.

In August, when the return of the Public Energy Authority first emerged, House Speaker Roger Hanshaw said the government agency should stop short of its full power to acquire and to manage energy transmission projects.

“I think the answer is no — full stop no — about that,” Hanshaw, R-Clay, said at the time.

“We’ve seen in other states what happens when the government gets involved in power generation. I think we want the private sector to do that. I think we want private sector energy providers to do what they do well.

Hamilton said today he just wanted to remind the State Energy Authority of what it can do.

“They noted that their authority in law provides for that consideration,” he said, “so again, that was just something that we wanted Public Power to look at and consider moving forward with.” ‘before.”

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