June 6, 2022 - During a recent meeting of the newly reactivated West Virginia Public Energy Authority, the president of the West Virginia Coal Association suggested the group should throw its support behind the Pleasants Power Station in Pleasants County.
Chris Hamilton, a member of the WVPEA, pitched an idea for the state to acquire an equity position in the facility, whose owners have announced plans to sell or deactivate within the next year.
His idea, which would make the state a partial owner of one of the eight coal-fired power plants remaining in the state, received a “mixed” response from the other members of the WVPEA, Hamilton said.
The Peasants Power Station, located on Willow Island near Belmont, employs around 160 workers and contributes more than $400 million worth of economic activity annually to the local economy, Hamilton said.
“The state’s interest in keeping the plant operational going forward would be a huge sign of confidence that the state is on board and really wants to do what it can do to keep that plant operational and keep those people up there employed,” he said.
Energy Harbor, the facility’s current owner, announced March 14 it would sell or shutter the plant by June 2023 as part of its effort to restructure as a “100% carbon-free, energy infrastructure and supply company.”
“Retiring the fossil fueled plants is a difficult but necessary strategic business decision critical to the continued transformation of our company,” said David Hamilton, executive vice president and COO of Energy Harbor.
Chris Hamilton said that if it is “appropriate and necessary,” he would support the state also becoming a financial backer of the other seven coal-fired power plants.
“We’re (stopping) short of saying that this needs to be done and this needs to be done now,” he said. “I think it’s important to retain that as an option. We’re seeing a lot of companies move toward a carbon-free output as it relates to the manufacturing of their product, including the public utilities.”
Gov. Jim Justice announced the reactivation of the WVPEA last year during the West Virginia Coal Association’s annual conference.
“One thing we want to try to ensure is that West Virginia will continue to be an energy powerhouse for the entire world,” Justice said. “By reactivating the WVPEA, the state will maintain real-time, firsthand knowledge of the status of each power plant, their life cycle and whether there are concerns of household power supplies being disrupted.”
The WVPEA was initially created by the West Virginia Legislature during the administration of Gov. Arch Moore “to foster, encourage and promote the mineral development industry in West Virginia.”
According to State Code, the WVPEA has the ability to own, lease, invest in, operate and acquire by public domain, coal-fired electric generating plants and transmission facilities, natural gas transmission projects and/or other energy projects.
In addition to Chris Hamilton, Justice appointed Charlie Burd of the Gas & Oil Association of West Virginia, Jeff Allen and Jeff Herholdt to the WVPEA.
“In this country today, whether it be coal or gas, our energy industry has been under attack like you can’t imagine. But at the same time, there is more and more demand for electricity globally,” Justice said. “So we surely need to do everything in our power to protect our baseload generation capacity.”