By Derek Redd
July 18, 2021 - The hopes of keeping Marshall County’s Mitchell power plant open until 2040 took a significant hit this past week, as the Kentucky Public Service Commission accepted a plan that would keep the plant open only until 2028.
That decision led to a strong response from U.S. Rep. David McKinley, R-W.Va., whose district includes the Mitchell plant.
American Electric Power, through its subsidiaries Wheeling Power and Kentucky Power, made separate filings to each state’s PSC. Wheeling Power and Kentucky Power each own a 50% stake in the Mitchell plant, so filings needed to be made in each state. Wheeling Power made its case in June before the West Virginia PSC, and is awaiting that body’s decision.
AEP has two plans on the table to bring the Mitchell plant into compliance with federal environmental regulations.
One plan, according to Kentucky PSC documents, would allow the plant to stay open until 2040 at a cost of $133.5 million.
In that plan, the Mitchell plant would be able to make improvements that would allow it to meet federal Effluent Limitations Guidelines, which are national standards for wastewater discharged to surface waters and municipal sewage treatment plants. Those have a compliance deadline of Dec. 31, 2028.
The other would cost $35.1 million, but would only allow the plant to make improvements to meet Coal Combustible Residual guidelines, which regulate the safe disposal of coal ash. Those improvements would only keep the Mitchell plant open until 2028.
Kentucky Power was asking to complete the first plan and requested a certificate to construct projects that would make the Mitchell plant ELG compliant and recover the costs for that project. It argued that doing so would be the cost-effective option, saying the costs to replace capacity in 2028 would be more than the costs of the improvements.
The Kentucky PSC disagreed, and authorized the company to go with the second plan.
“Based on the evidence provided in the case, the Commission found the company over-stated the costs of replacement energy and capacity,” the Kentucky PSC said in a news release.
‘Additionally, Kentucky Power did not account for potential future environmental compliance costs that could add to costs to keep Mitchell in operation beyond 2028.”
The PSC’s ruling fell in line with the arguments made by Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron, a Republican, the Kentucky Industrial Utility Customers advocacy group, and the Sierra Club.
McKinley has been a very vocal proponent of doing what is necessary to keep the Mitchell plant open until 2040. He testified before the West Virginia PSC and led a congressional delegation letter calling on the WVPSC to approve the necessary upgrades.
He said in a statement released Friday that he was disappointed in Kentucky “turning its back on coal.”
“Not only does the Mitchell Power Plant support countless jobs and much-needed economic activity, but it is critical to providing reliable and resilient electricity to ratepayers through West Virginia and Kentucky,” McKinley said. “Any rate increases needed to keep the Mitchell Power Plant open pale in comparison to the economic devastation that will come with the plant’s premature closure.”
A 2021 West Virginia University report on the economic impact of coal and coal-fired power generation in the state said Mitchell produces more than 5 million in total megawatt hour power generation. The plant’s direct economic impact in Marshall County is $418 million, and closing the Mitchell plant would mean the end of more than 660 jobs and $65 million in employee compensation.
McKinley said he and other supporters of the Mitchell plant weren’t done fighting to keep it open until 2040.
“Moving forward, to keep the plant open through 2040, we will work with the state and other stakeholders to find a solution to protect our economy and West Virginia’s coal miners,” he said.