By David Beard
The Dominion Post
CHARLESTON — An unusual coalition of left and right trod the marble halls of the Capitol last week to lobby against Mon Power’s possible purchase of the Pleasants Power Station from a sister company.
Debbie Dooley, the Georgia-based co-founder of the Tea Party and Conservatives for Energy Freedom, joined with Emmett Pepper and Karan Ireland, of West Virginians for Energy Freedom, to speak to legislators about Mon Power’s RFP (request for proposals) to buy a plant to fill a capacity shortfall.
West Virginians for Energy Freedom is itself a coalition of various progressive groups, public officials and the League of Women Voters, formed to fight the possible purchase.
The coalition believes that Mon Power’s RFP is a disguised effort to buy the coal-fired Station from a FirstEnergy sister and shift the plant’s financial risks from stockholders to ratepayers.
Dooley explained why conservatives and progressives are working together on this. “Conservatives are interested in individual liberty and freedom,” she said.
She got involved in the energy field because of a fight with Georgia Power in her home state. The utility is building nuclear reactors, experiencing massive cost overruns and is still guaranteed a profit, she said.
She started researching ways to give them competition. “Solar clean energy was a natural fit.” She emphasizes that she’s not against any form of energy. She’s against this kind of approach to energy business and is working in several states, including her neighbor, Florida.
“I think the monopoly business model is outdated. Their utility customers are shackled to them,” she said. Their business model allows them to make bad mistakes and bad investments. “They force their utility customers to bail them out.” Stockholders should pay the price for bad decisions, not customers.
As previously reported, Mon Power issued its RFP in December, to acquire a 1,300 megawatt (MW) plant and an additional 100 MW of demand resources. Proposals were due by Feb. 3. Mon Power and Allegheny Energy Supply, which owns Pleasants Power Station, are FirstEnergy subsidiaries.
In the RFP, Mon Power projects a 1,045 MW shortfall by 2020, rising to 1,400 MW by 2027. Part of that will be due to the sale of its partial interest in a Dominion power facility in Virginia.
Mon Power sells its energy into the PJM market. PJM is the 13-state regional transmission organization. It said it wants whatever plant it buys to lie within the Allegheny Power Systems (APS) zone within the PJM region. The APS zone covers Mon Power’s footprint in West Virginia plus portions of western Maryland, western and central Pennsylvania, and a small piece of Virginia served by other companies.
Two members of the West Virginia coalition — WV SUN, devoted to solar power advocacy, and Energy Efficient West Virginia — said previously that they believe the RFP “is a sham that is rigged to get the parent company’s preferred outcome.”
Which brings Dooley to why she came to the Capitol. “How is what FirstEnergy is trying to do any different than the bailouts we saw during the Bush administration and the Obama administration? They want the average utility customers that have no choice about what they do — where they purchase their power from — they want to force them to bail out the bad decisions of their CEOs.”
Displaced coal miners could see a rate increase if this goes through, she said.
Under the government-created monopoly system, she said, every capital investment leads to a guaranteed profit, even a bad investment. “We are incentivizing failure.”
The monopoly system needs to evolve, Dooley said. States should remove regulatory barriers, allow third-party sales and leasing “and more of a free market aspect. … You should have the right to generate power on your private property and be able to sell it to your neighbor.”
Ireland, program director of WV SUN, said they believe Mon Power will come before the Public Service Commission with its plan in March, so they came to the Capitol hoping to educate legislators before that.
The coalition hopes the PSC will hold public hearings about the purchase across Mon Power territory, not just in Charleston, she said.
Pepper, executive director of Energy Efficient West Virginia, said, “We feel like the Public Service Commission, if they look at it fairly, they’re going to see this isn’t a good decision for ratepayers; this doesn’t make any sense.”
Ireland said that West Virginians for Energy Freedom is planning several public meetings about the possible deal across north-central West Virginia and the Eastern Panhandle.
Mon Power responds
Mon Power spokesman Todd Meyers offered these comments via email.
“The independent consultant continues to evaluate the responses to the RFPs received earlier this month. When that evaluation is complete, the firm will offer its recommendation to Mon Power as to which option would best resolve a projected capacity shortfall. At this point, there is no new development.”
Repeating some earlier comments, he said, “It comes as no surprise that different groups and individuals with different perspectives hold varying points of view on this critical and complex issue. Mon Power’s goal through the RFP process is to help identify possible resources necessary to meet future generation supply and capacity obligations in a cost-effective, prudent and reliable manner.”
He added, “We believe that our RFP process is competitive, and we are confident that the results will show that. Rather than speculate on outcomes, we will let the RFP process play itself out.
“Mon Power will need to seek state and federal regulatory approval for whatever proposal or proposals are identified through the RFP process as best to resolve Mon Power’s projected capacity shortfall,” he concluded. “The recommended option or options would be subject to thorough scrutiny during public regulatory proceedings conducted by both the Public Service Commission of West Virginia and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.”
(Reprinted with permission from The Dominion Post; published Feb. 27, 2017)