First’s energy deal is second rate for W.Va.

Fixing the outcome appears to be what’s behind the application by First Energy to the West Virginia Public Service Commission to transfer its Harrison County coal-burning power plant from deregulated utility Allegheny Energy Supply to regulated utilities Mon Power and Potomac Edison, the justification being that the deal would be a good one for West Virginia. But that’s not the conclusion being reached by a host of intervenors and others into the matter, who argue the sale of the plant would lock West Virginia’s electric ratepayers into a two-decade dependence on coal, even as coal burning looks to be an increasingly undesirable option, given stricter environmental regulations and higher fuel costs that have served to depress other recent coal plant sales, making inexplicable the transfer of the Harrison plant at the price that it’d be sold to Mon Power and Potomac Edison.

In a paper published late last month by energy consultants David Schlissel and Cathy Kunkel, the pair are unsparing in their critique of First Energy’s willingness to bet West Virginia’s future on an aging coal-fired power plant by engaging in a best-case scenario regarding the Harrison plant’s long-term prospects that wouldn’t have it beginning to turn a profit except under an especially speculative energy price forecast along about 2024, and a worst-case scenario regarding future energy market prices and the cost and “operating performance” of building a new natural gas plant, that, say the authors, is based on that hypothetical new plant running a fraction of the time the Harrison plant would run.

It all adds up to a deal that might be good for First Energy, but bad for West Virginia.

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