FirstEnergy Drops $250 Million Proposal for Aging Coal-Fired Power Plants

By Ben Delman on December 17, 2020

A coalition of energy advocates issued the following release announcing a major victory for West Virginia utility customers:

Charleston, WV — The West Virginia Public Service Commission approved a settlement agreement between West Virginia Citizen Action Group (CAG) and Solar United Neighbors (SUN), FirstEnergy Corp., and other parties that halts FirstEnergy’s plan to spend approximately $250 million on two aging coal-fired power plants in West Virginia. CAG and SUN, represented by Charleston attorney Emmett Pepper and the nonprofit law firm Earthjustice, applaud the Commission’s approval of this settlement at a time when ratepayers should not be asked to foot the bill for spending on uneconomic power plants.

“This agreement is a money-saving win for West Virginians,” said Autumn Long of Solar United Neighbors. “It confirms that solar energy is ready today to power our state. We look forward to seeing more solar on our homes and in our communities.”

This settlement addresses the large capital-spending program for five coal-fired generating units operated by FirstEnergy’s West Virginia utilities, Monongahela Power Company and The Potomac Edison Company. Under this plan, the utilities’ customers would assume a long-term financial burden, while FirstEnergy and its shareholders would receive a guaranteed revenue stream for those capital costs. FirstEnergy made this proposal without considering whether it would be less expensive for its customers to retire one or more of these coal units. CAG and SUN submitted expert testimony showing that the coal units will likely lose money almost every year going forward.

Under the settlement agreement approved by the Commission, FirstEnergy agreed to withdraw its application for this spending program. FirstEnergy will recover $5 million in 2021 for environmental compliance projects, but the larger spending program was not approved. Before FirstEnergy proposes any future spending program of this magnitude, the company must conduct a full economic analysis of the coal units. This requirement will help ensure that FirstEnergy considers retirement, and investments in clean energy options like solar and energy efficiency, before proposing additional spending on its coal units.

“FirstEnergy wanted to spend hundreds of millions of their customers’ hard-earned dollars upgrading decades-old generating units,” said Gary Zuckett of Citizen Action Group. “West Virginians know what it’s like to decide whether it makes sense to make an expensive repair on an aging car. FirstEnergy should do the same before spending our money on these units.”

Read the Commission’s order here.