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Jefferson County officials table request to oppose FirstEnergy purchase

June 27, 2013|By RICHARD F. BELISLE | richardb@herald-mil.com

CHARLES TOWN, W.Va. — A request from a local environmental activist group that the Jefferson County Commission sign its resolution opposing FirstEnergy’s purchase of a 40-year-old, coal-fired power plant in West Virginia was tabled Thursday.

The resolution was presented to the commission by the Coalition for Reliable Power, “a loosely affiliated organization of citizens trying to encourage long-term energy policies for West Virginia,” said Patience Wait of Shepherdstown, W.Va., who drafted the resolution.

The issue is the Harrison (County) Power Station in Haywood, W.Va. The station is owned by Allegheny Energy, a FirstEnergy subsidiary.

FirstEnergy wants to buy the plant in an intracompany deal for $1.1 billion. The price, including interest, would be repaid over 27 years through a 6 percent rate hike to FirstEnergy customers in West Virginia, including those of Potomac Edison, Wait said.

FirstEnergy has a rate increase request pending before the West Virginia Public Service Commission.

Several residents spoke in support of the resolution, including George Rutherford, president of the Jefferson County NAACP.

Charles H. Friddle III, director of external affairs for FirstEnergy, asked the commissioners not to adopt the resolution.

“There simply isn’t time to present all of the facts needed to make a decision,” he said. “This is a complicated issue.”

The PSC held three days of hearings on the rate hike request in May.

Wait said $1.1 billion is “too much to pay for a 40-year-old plant at a time when the coal industry is declining, and coal is getting more expensive.”

The resolution said, in part, that “the intra-company sale has been proposed without regard to determining the least expensive, most cost-effective solution for Jefferson County residents. The purpose of the sale is to raise cash to improve its (FirstEnergy) balance sheet rather than to maintain a reliable source of energy.”

“Opponents will cite energy efficiency as a way to offset the need to acquire Harrison, but the difference is too large to be achieved through energy efficiency and demand reduction alone,” Friddle told the commissioners.

Friddle said the proposal is supported by the West Virginia Coal Association, construction and utility workers, and the United Mine Workers.

He said after the meeting that if the PSC denies the 6 percent rate increase the Harrison plant will not be bought.

Several commissioners, including Jane Tabb, had issues with the resolution’s wording.

“I don’t know if I can support the concept,” she said.

“It’s none of our business,” Commissioner Walt Pellish said, explaining why he won’t vote for the resolution. “This is a PSC matter, not the county commission’s. The PSC held extensive hearings, so I expect qualified people to decide this.”

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