Energy, Monongalia County, West Virginia Legislature

If Pleasants stays open, Fort Martin may close: Local legislators, officials offer some thoughts

MORGANTOWN – During the debate on whether or not Mon Power and Potomac Edison should buy Pleasants Power State and keep it running, what’s not been discussed much is the possible accompanying closure of Fort Martin Power Station in Maidsville, outside Morgantown.

The state Public Service Commission’s Consumer Advocate Division recommended both actions: run Pleasants and close Fort Martin. CAD cited two primary reasons: Pleasants has better pollution scrubbers and better access to coal supplies.

The Legislature and the governor have endorsed the Pleasants purchase, but their endorsements did not take into account Fort Martin. So we polled local legislators and members of the Monongalia County Commission on the Fort Martin issue, including, for the legislators, whether knowing of the plant’s possible closure would have changed their vote.

First, we point out that Mon Power and Potomac Edison haven’t committed to buying Pleasants or closing Fort Martin. During the discussions the companies have said they already operate two coal-fired plants – Fort Martin and Harrison – and don’t see any customer benefit to operating three.

But asked specifically, the companies said this week in an email exchange: “As stated in the filing and in last week’s hearings, the companies are unable to make any recommendation on the purchase of the Pleasants plant and respectively whether Fort Martin’s status will be addressed as part of any recommendation, as we believe additional studies and analysis are required before a decision can be made.”

The two legislative resolutions urging Mon Power to buy Pleasants cite the economic advantages to the state. Among them, Pleasants employs 154 people and provides $1.75 million annually to the county in property taxes. “The plant also represents the largest taxpayer in Pleasants County and is truly the heart and soul of the community.”

Fort Martin however, employs about 180 people, according to the FirstEnergy fact sheet on the plant, and provides Mon County $3.4 million in annual property taxes – 26 more employees and just shy of double what Pleasants pays.

All but one local legislator voted in favor of their respective resolutions – which the Senate adopted unanimously and the House adopted 93-2 – and a handful responded to our request for comment.

Sen. Mike Caputo, D-Marion, gave a brief floor speech in favor of the resolution on the day it passed the Senate. In response to our questions, he said, “The only question before me was concerning the preservation of the Pleasants Power Station and the many coal jobs associated with it, and I voted yes. If there was a resolution before me to keep Fort Martin open, I would have supported that as well. What Mon Power does at the end is out of my control.”

Sen. Mike Oliverio, R-Monongalia, said, “As a member of the Senate Energy, Industry and Mining Committee, I attended a briefing this session that showed members how close our entire region came to losing power across the PJM during the very brief, but powerful cold front that moved through just prior to Christmas.

“The presentation reinforced in my mind how important it is to my constituents that we maintain electricity during these winter storms,” he said. “Standing by and watching a coal-fired power plant close without trying to do anything to prevent it didn’t make sense to me. As the state senator who represents the community that is home to the National Energy Technology Laboratory, if I’m not willing to stand up for fossil fuel power generation who is?

“The use of coal enables our power company to add to the PJM grid and provide reliable, cost efficient power. It is premature to suggest jobs would be lost at one power station over another at this point. I support the ongoing effort to preserve a predictable source of electricity. Let’s give FirstEnergy/Mon Power the time necessary to complete their review and I will monitor the progress going forward.”

Delegate Joe Statler, R-Monongalia, said, “I can assure you that in any discussions I was involved in, it was never mentioned that if they were to keep Pleasants Power Station open they would need to retire another plant. I would question why they feel they would need to do this, considering the fact that during the cold snap in December of 2022 they were close to mandatory rolling blackouts, from my understanding.

“And to answer your final question,” he said, “we always need all the relevant information before us to make a decision that affects our constituents, and with this information that they are putting out to the PSC I would more than likely look at this in a different view. I think they must think long and hard to the fact that we may not have the reliable capacity in all situations to retire any plants at this point.”

Delegate Evan Hansen, D-Monongalia, voted no on the House resolution. He said, “We’ve known for many years that the coal-fired power plants in West Virginia will eventually shut down, and that it’s only a question of when. Now that the country is reducing greenhouse gas emissions to address climate change, these plants will likely shut down even sooner.

“At this point,” he said, “the question is whether they close in the 2020s or 2030s. Electric bills for West Virginia customers have gone up faster than in any other state in the country because our regulators have doubled down on coal when they should have been diversifying our fuel mix. Forcing ratepayers to pay even more to keep an unprofitable plant open will only add to this burden. If the Pleasants plant could compete in the free market, they wouldn’t be shutting it down.”

One other delegate replied but said he didn’t feel familiar enough with the full issue to be able to comment.

The Dominion Post’s Ben Conley talked to Commissioner Tom Bloom, who said, “The concern is, it’s given the appearance it’s one or the other, Pleasants or Fort Martin, rather than looking at both individually on its merits, and that worries us. We were told that it could be in the very near future that Fort Martin was going to close.

“We don’t have specific numbers,” he said, “but any shutdown will obviously affect our community in jobs and taxes. We were informed this was a possibility that could happen, so we were going with Longview 2 [Longview’s new combined-cycle gas-fired plant] and hoping that would be online. We were hoping that would be there to offset, but we haven’t heard anything that’s going on right now.”

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