A successful fight for energy freedom

West Virginia ratepayers beat Ohio-based FirstEnergy’s effort to put us on the hook for its unprofitable power plant

Ohio-based FirstEnergy sought to transfer the Pleasants plant, owned by FirstEnergy’s unregulated subsidiary Allegheny Energy Supply, to Mon Power and Potomac Edison, FirstEnergy’s West Virginia subsidiaries that are regulated. FirstEnergy pursued the deal even though the company did not need the plant to meet the needs of customers. Had this scheme succeeded, Mon Power and Potomac Edison customers would have assumed all of the plant’s costs and financial risks. Meanwhile, FirstEnergy and its shareholders would receive a guaranteed revenue stream.

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission denied FirstEnergy’s request, and the Public Service Commission (PSC) of West Virginia approved deal but with several conditions aimed at protecting customers from financial and legal risks that FirstEnergy would have to meet if the transfer went forward. Eventually, FirstEnergy threw in the towel.

West Virginia’s community of solar supporters worked with the West Virginians For Energy Freedom (WV4EF) coalition to make this possible. Launched in early 2017, the coalition, formed by Solar United Neighbors of West Virginia, Energy Efficient West Virginia, and West Virginia Citizen Action Group, came out swinging against FirstEnergy’s bad deal. Coalition members included homeowners, renters, business owners, elected officials, and nonprofit leaders.

West Virginians rallied to make FirstEnergy’s ploy a major public issue with petitions, letters to the editor, a “Fax The PSC” campaign, and more. More than 2,500 letters of protest and petitions were posted to the PSC docket. Only 51 letters of support were registered.

The campaign reached out to key stakeholders including residents, business owners, elected officials, and nonprofit leaders in FirstEnergy and Potomac Edison’s coverage area to build support for the Energy Freedom campaign. The cities of Lewisburg and Morgantown passed resolutions opposing FirstEnergy’s plan.

One of the campaign’s first victories was calling on the PSC to hold public hearings outside of Charleston. This enabled the ratepayers in Potomac Edison and Mon Power’s service who would be impacted by the transfer to make their voices heard. The PSC listened and held public hearings in Parkersburg, Martinsburg, and Morgantown. Each hearing was packed, with the ones in Martinsburg and Morgantown being close to standing room only. The majority of the speakers at all three ardently opposed FirstEnergy’s bad deal.

Coverage in the media kept the issue in the spotlight with news stories in the state’s major dailies, along with television and radio reports. PSC chairman Mike Albert mentioned the media coverage during its public hearings in Parkersburg and Morgantown and during the hearing in Charleston. WV4EF’s Facebook and Twitter feeds and emails kept supporters up to date and engaged.

While WV4EF won the battle against corporate greed, despite claims that the plant was profitable and necessary, FirstEnergy announced it would sell or deactivate the Pleasants plant near Parkersburg in 2019. The energy monopoly cited the FERC and PSC decisions.

West Virginians For Energy Freedom hopes to continue the fight for energy choice and to help people and communities find a way to thrive after corporations shut down operations.