Op-ed: Making the case for Pleasants Power

There’s been a lot of discussion throughout the state concerning First Energy’s proposed sale of its Pleasants Power Station to its Monongahela Power and Potomac Edison Power subsidiaries. Hearings held around the state by the West Virginia Public Service Commission are generating lots of opinion for and against the proposed sale.

As director of the Pleasants Area Chamber of Commerce, I want to clear up some misinformation and outline WHY this sale should proceed.

First and foremost: Jobs.

Pleasants Power station employs more than 240 people. If the sale is thwarted, First Energy said the plant will likely be closed. That’s a loss of 240 jobs and millions in local tax revenue.

In addition to the coal-fired Pleasants Power station, Pleasants County is also home to hydro and gas-fired power plants. These two plants combined employ less than 35 people.

One of the biggest hurdles our gas plant faces is the inability to get feedstock in the winter due to a lack of supply. It will cost millions of dollars in upgrades and infrastructure to alleviate this problem.

Opponents of this deal cite a study stating there is no need for additional energy for decades. That study was PAID for by the Sierra Club; an environmental group that, according to its website, is devoted to the elimination of “dirty fossil fuels.”

If there’s no need, why are there reports of plans to build additional hydro power stations near Bluefield (East River Mountain) and Wheeling (Pike Island)? These projects are still in planning. But the fact these projects are being reported, demonstrates a clear need for additional power in the region.

Why then, are we talking about closure of Pleasants Power Station?

An economic study from West Virginia University found the demand for energy in the region will grow through the next decade. That study points to MarkWest Energy, Blue Racer and other midstream processing plants located in Doddridge, Wetzel and Marshall counties. Those plants separate natural gas by reducing the temperature of the gas to as low as minus 120 degrees Fahrenheit, according to the West Virginia Department of Commerce website. At the extremely low temperatures, the gas turns into liquids.

MarkWest operates five cryogenic plants at its Sherwood facility in Doddridge County. According to the Department of Commerce, the company plans to bring three more plants online this year and next.

There is a need. And there will be a greater demand for power. Wind and solar aren’t reliable. We lack the infrastructure for additional gas plants. And hydro alone can’t do the job. We need the Pleasants Power station.

The coal-fired Pleasants Power delivers now. With reliable coal feedstock, some of which comes from WV-based coal mines, Pleasants Power has been servicing customers for decades.

When the Obama administration-EPA rolled out new regulations for air quality, the Pleasants Power station not only complied, it exceeded the new decrees and came out ahead of the curve and on pace to achieve the federal mandates years ahead of the deadline. In addition to improved air quality, water the plant draws from the Ohio River for cooling is returned in cleaner, better quality condition. Pleasants Power is committed to being a good neighbor and a clean consumer/producer.

Opponents of this deal argue consumer rates will increase if the sale is approved. One energy consultant claims the transfer could cost residential customers $69 a year. That’s only $5 more a month. I’ll pay that — gladly! — If it keeps 240 people employed in our region.

But the cost claim is NOT true.

Based on the projected energy demands, residential rates could actually decrease by a $1 month and by 3 percent for large industrial customers. Here, I’ll call your attention to Ravenswood, and the 2009 closure of Century Aluminum that resulted in more than 640 job losses. The Century closure was due to a drop in aluminum prices and the “inability to obtain a competitive power contract.”

Cheaper power could have saved Century Aluminum and the 640 jobs that were lost.

First Energy pays close to $5 million a year in local taxes and it donates thousands annually to area charities, fundraisers and events. Its employees are involved in many aspects of many area communities. They are our friends and neighbors.

Finally, I find incomprehensible the West Virginia Public Service Commission would vote to halt the sale of a plant causing its closure and resulting in the loss of more than 240 jobs, millions in local tax dollars and annual community charitable donations.

In West Virginia coal has put food on the table of families for generations, including mine (the son of a southern West Virginia prep plant foreman). If we don’t value coal and its contributions to our economy, what kind of a message are we sending to rest of the country?

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Jody Murphy is the Executive Director of the Pleasants Area Chamber of Commerce.

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