The Monongahela Power Company is asking ratepayers to pay more to bail out a Marion County power plant that critics charge is dirty, already expensive and damaging to the air, land and water.
Customers currently pay a bit above the market rate for the Grant Town Power Plant because the small power station was designed to burn waste coal – low-energy gob from old mines.
But Jim Kotcon, chair of the West Virginia chapter of the Sierra Club, says Monongahela Power is asking the Public Service Commission to make ratepayers pay even more to keep an especially dirty power plant running, and keep its operators out of bankruptcy.
“Mon Power really doesn’t need that generation, and they certainly shouldn’t have to force their customers to pay higher rates in order to keep that plant on-line,” he states.
Monongahela Power argues that it does need the generating capacity and that Grant Town is helping to clean up an environmental issue.
Kotcon argues the environmental benefit is “marginal at best,” and Grant Town is one of most expensive and polluting power sources in West Virginia.
Kotcon says if the PSC agrees to another in what is becoming a series of the coal plant bailouts, ratepayers would pay about twice the rate that wholesale electricity could be bought for off the grid. In return, he says they sustain a power plant that has some of the highest air pollution numbers in the West Virginia.
“Some of these gob piles are getting cleaned up, but at the same time they’re creating new mines that require reclamation,” he stresses. “In addition the ash leads to leaching of salts and heavy metals and other problems going into the water.”
The fly ash from Grant Town is being applied to mine remediation sites to reduce acid mine drainage.
But Kotcon points out the ash from gob is high in heavy metals, which are free to leach into the surface water from the old mines. He says there are cheaper, cleaner options that are less of a risk than the already subsidized Grant Town plant.
“Even at that inflated price, they are on the verge of bankruptcy,” Kotcon points out. “It is certainly not one that is competitive, given how cheap natural gas or wind power or even solar power would be.”
Grant Town supporters say closing the power plant would be hard on the community and the 170 employees. The proposal would raise the cost of power from the plant by 14 percent.