Advocates for energy freedom notch big win in West Virginia

By Ben Delman on February 8, 2018

Update: FirstEnergy announced it will be deactivating plant  unless it can secure a sale by January 2019.

On Monday, Ohio-based utility FirstEnergy announced it will end its bid to transfer ownership of its Pleasants power plant from one of its Ohio subsidiaries to two West Virginia utilities the company also owns. This announcement was the culmination of a more than year-long effort by a broad coalition of West Virginians to stop FirstEnergy from putting the financial burden of its unprofitable power plant onto the backs of ratepayers.

More than 2,500 people, businesses, and nonprofits organized under the banner of West Virginians For Energy Freedom. The group opposed the Pleasants sale by speaking at public hearings, getting municipal resolutions passed, filing letters of protest with the West Virginia Public Service Commission (PSC), writing letters to the editor, and signing petitions.

The Pleasants power plant is located near Parkersburg, West Virginia, but the electricity it generates is sold into Ohio’s deregulated energy market. This means the plant has to compete with other power plants to sell its electricity. The Pleasants plant was unable to do so profitably. FirstEnergy wanted to transfer ownership of the plant because West Virginia’s electricity market is regulated. Hence, FirstEnergy could sell the plant’s electricity at a fixed price. This transfer threatened to raise West Virginia customers’ utility bills an average of $69 per year for the next 15 years.

FirstEnergy’s withdrawal of its request followed setbacks at both the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) and the West Virginia PSC. FERC denied FirstEnergy’s request in early January. It did so because of concerns that West Virginia customers would be forced to subsidize FirstEnergy’s unregulated business. Then last week, the PSC established several conditions aimed at protecting customers from financial and legal risks that FirstEnergy would have to meet if the transfer went forward.

In its letter Monday, FirstEnergy said it would not appeal FERC’s decision. FirstEnergy also said it would not agree to the PSC’s conditions, because it would expose the company to unacceptable risks. These of course were the very risks FirstEnergy tried to force on customers through its proposal.