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Gov. Justice signs H.B. 207 at Pleasants Power Station

(WTAP)
Published: Mar. 8, 2017 at 6:24 PM EST
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UPDATE: 07/30/19 4:20 P.M.

Governor Jim Justice visited the Mid-Ohio Valley today to sign House Bill 207 into law.

The bill which exempts the Pleasants Power Station from a 12.5 million dollar state tax is aimed to add financial stability to the struggling plant.

First Energy CEO John Judge talked about how important it was that they kept the 165 employees of the plant employed, and how the bill would help them achieve that.

When questioned, the governor responded about the future of coal energy here in West Virginia and around the nation.

“Well of course I have concerns, I have concerns everyday about the long term future of coal and thermal coal in the nation and the attack on coal from everywhere, shape, form, or fashion and I work on it; I work on it like wild everyday.”

In 2018, First Energy stated they plan to close the plant by mid-2022.

This tax exemption as of right now does not change this date but does keep the plant open until then.


UPDATE: 07/29/19 6:30 P.M.

West Virginia governor Jim Justice is expected to sign House Bill 207 at Pleasants Power Station on Tuesday.

The bill will exempt FirstEnergy Solutions, which has been operating in bankruptcy, from a $12.5 million state tax.

The signing will take place on Tuesday at 1 p.m.


UPDATE: 07/23/19 2 P.M.

West Virginia lawmakers have overwhelmingly approved a bill to give a tax break to a struggling coal-fired power plant.

The Senate and the House of Delegates passed the measure Tuesday without much debate, sending it to the governor's office.

The proposal would exempt FirstEnergy Solutions, which has been operating in bankruptcy, from a $12.5 million state tax. CEO John W. Judge says the company's Pleasants Power Station in Willow Island will likely close in the next year if it has to continue paying the tax.

Local and state officials say the closure would devastate the local economy, coal producers and other industries.

Republican Gov. Jim Justice, who owns coal businesses, is pushing for the bill. He amended the special session call so the legislature could take up the proposal.

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UPDATE: 07/22/19 7 P.M.

A West Virginia House of Delegates committee has advanced a bill to exempt a struggling coal-fired power plant in Pleasants County from a state business and operations tax.

The House Finance Committee on Monday approved the measure to stop charging FirstEnergy Solutions the $12.5 million tax. The bill now moves to the full House for consideration.

CEO John W. Judge said the company has been operating in bankruptcy. He says its Pleasants Power Station in Willow Island will likely close in the next year without the tax exemption, putting at least 160 workers out of work.

Pleasants County Commissioner Jay Powell said the closure of the plant would devastate the local economy.

"To put the local power plant on the same playing field as the other power plants, to be not only competitive, but also to be able to make a reasonable profit at the power plant, I think makes a lot of sense," said Mike Nelson, president of the Pleasants County Development Authority.

Republican Gov. Jim Justice is pushing for the bill and amended the special session call so the Legislature could take up the proposal.


UPDATE 7/20/2019 4:15 P.M.

West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice announced Friday that he is adding two bills and two resolutions to his proclamation calling for lawmakers to convene in special session.

Included among the new bills is one that, if passed, would save the First Energy Pleasants Power Station in Willow Island from closing.

The plant has faced financial strain over the past several years partly because of its status as a merchant power plant it faces taxes that other plants do not have to bear, Justice's office said in news release. It is the only power plant in West Virginia that's subjected to this hindrance which makes its power rates uncompetitive in the market.

"Officials with the plant came to me this week and told me they needed help to be able to stay open and that they were getting crushed by this tax," Justice said. "I called our incredible team with our Department of Revenue and together we have found a way, within our means, to move some money around and make it work."

The bill would exempt certain merchant power plants from the business and operation tax, leveling the playing field for the Pleasants Power Station, Justice said.

"This bill is so incredibly important because we're talking about saving people's jobs – good coal jobs – and saving entire counties that would be devastated if this plant were to close for good," he said. "This is an emergency and I'm calling on the House and Senate to work along with me to act on this as quickly as possible. We have a chance to save whole communities and we need to take it."

Sen. Donna Boley of Pleasants County said keeping the plant open is important for numerous reasons.

“Well, I think it would mean a lot to I think approximately 200 employees that area still there," she said. "It’s just so important that we keep it open for not only the power that it produces but the people it employs.”

She also said she thinks that most of the legislators will support the measure to keep the plant open.

Pleasants County Commissioner Jay Powell said he appreciates the state's efforts to continue supporting the plant.

"On behalf of Pleasants County and the entire Mid-Ohio Valley Region, we cannot thank Gov. Justice and the West Virginia Legislature enough for their attempt to address the unique tax situation with the Pleasants Power Station," he said. "If they don’t immediately address this tax issue, the Pleasants Power Station will cease to operate, which will directly impact coal miners, construction workers, and hundreds of families that depend on this plant.

"This plant invests over $400 million into the state of West Virginia annually and Gov. Justice and the West Virginia Legislature are doing their best to make sure it remains here for years to come."


Update: 10/19/2018 5:25 P.M.

Pleasants County leaders believe the announcement the Pleasants Power Station will remain open until mid-2022 is good news.

They tell us there has been talk about potential buyers for the nearly 40-year old facility.

They don't know if this latest development will make a sale more likely.

"A buyer is an option, one option, to get coal-fired power plants on stable ground, financially," says Pleasants County Commissioner Jay Powell, "and First Energy will continue to run the operation as well. We're working hard and praying hard that we can continue to keep the plant open and be stable for a long time to come; not just three and a half years."

Powell says contacts with local and national lawmakers-and even President Donald Trump-have helped keep the plant open.


UPDATE 10/18/2018 7:29 p.m.

Governor Jim Justice releases a statement after learning First Energy plans to keep the Pleasants Power Station open. The plant was scheduled to close in January 2019.

“First Energy has notified the regional grid administrator, PJM, that it intends to keep the plant, that employs 160 people, operational until June 1, 2022,” Gov. Justice said.

“I have worked hard with President Trump, Energy Secretary Rick Perry, First Energy CEO Chuck Jones and many Legislators and County Commissioners to make sure this plant stays open,” Gov. Justice added. “While the plant will remain operational until June 2022, today’s announcement will provide a cushion for First Energy Solutions to stabilize the operation. I am hopeful that over the next three and a half years a permanent fix for the long-term operation of the facility will be reached so that it remains a vital part of America’s power grid. I am encouraged that the men and women who work at this plant will be there producing power for our country for decades to come.”


Update: 12/1/2017 4:50 P.M.

It's been nearly four months since public hearings were held about the future of a power plant in Pleasants County, But there's still no decision about its proposed sale.

The West Virginia Public Service Commission is considering approval of the power plant transfer by First Energy to its subsidiaries, Mon Power and Potomac Edison.

The sale is opposed by the group West Virginians For Energy Freedom. They say the coal-fired plant is outdated, and nothing more than a bailout for First Energy.

The city council in Lewisburg this week approved a resolution stating its opposition to the transfer.

Pleasants County business and government leaders say the plant is vital to the region's economic future.


Update: 9/6/2017 8:30 P.M.

People whose communities directly benefit from the Pleasants Power Station's continued presence along West Virginia Route 2, believe keeping the plant there is in theirs, and their residents' best interests.

"Without this transaction, Pleasants County will see the vibrant facility, having undergone massive upgrades in recent years, to be relegated to an industrial graveyard," John Fitzpatrick, Mayor of Belmont, West Virginia, told a public hearing Tuesday night.

But others, many of whom are from neighboring Wood County, don't see the 37 year-old coal-fired power plant the same way.

"Investing ratepayers' dollars in a giant, dirty, aging coal plant exposes them to financially unacceptable risks," said Belleville resident Giulia Mannarin.

First Energy says the transfer of the plant to Mon Power and Potomac Edison, if approved by the West Virginia Public Service Commission, will result in lower utility bills for residents and businesses. People who spoke at the public hearing believe otherwise.

"Why was there a narrow bid process that was stacked to ensure a predetermined result," said Jean Ambrose, Wood County Resident, "and will be an anchor around our necks, as we try to transition to the energy systems of the future."

The company says those energy systems and their needs-along with growing businesses-are part of the reason for the proposed transfer.

"There's more and more of these midstream gas processing plants coming on line, and more and more compressors," according to Todd Meyers, First Energy Spokesman. "On the other side of the state, in the Eastern Panhandle, you're seeing Proctor and Gamble and other types of commercial developments."

Other PSC hearings are set for September 11 in Martinsburg, and September 12 in Morgantown. An evidentiary hearing is set for September 28.


Update: 9/6/2017 1:55 P.M.

The future of a coal-fired power plant in Pleasants County is the subject of a public hearing tonight (September 6).

First Energy, which operates the Pleasants Power Station, filed earlier this year for the transfer of the Willow Island plant to its subsidiaries, Mon Power and Potomac Edison.

Beginning at 6 P.M., the West Virginia Public Service Commission is to hear public comments on that proposal. The hearing will be held in the Parkersburg City Council chambers at the Municipal Building.

Supporters of the transfer, which include business groups in Pleasants County, say if the plant should be deactivated by First Energy, it would mean the loss of hundreds of local jobs and millions of dollars in revenue.

But opposition has emerged in the months since the proposal was announced, saying the transfer is nothing more than a bailout for First Energy, which is headquartered in Ohio.

"We believe in a free market here, and if this plant is on the free market, and First Energy doesn't think it's making them enough money," said Emmett Pepper, of the West Virginia Citizen Action Group, "so they want to use the government to force us to pay for their power plant. And it makes no sense if you believe in free-market economics."

A recent article in the Martinsburg Journal-News pointed out the Pleasnts Power Station is currently not regulated, and the transfer would be made to two companies whose electric rates are set by the PSC.

Allegheny Energy, owner of the plant before First Energy, made major improvements to the facility a decade ago, which included the addition of equipment to reduce emissions.

That was before First Energy shut down the adjacent Willow Island Power Plant in 2011, an independent electric-generating facility that had been in operation since the 1950's.


Update: 6/7/2017 4:45 P.M.

The West Virginia Public Service Commission has scheduled public hearings in three cities, on a proposed ownership transfer of the Pleasants Power Station.

One of the three hearings will be held September 6th at 6 P.M. at the Parkersburg City Council chambers, on the second floor of the city building.

The group "West Virginians for Energy Freedom" had sought the hearings, calling the transfer "a bad deal for West Virginians".

The other hearings will be held September 11th in Martinsburg and September 12th in Morgantown.


3/7/2017

One of the area's largest coal-fired power plants may soon have a new owner.

State regulators have been asked to transfer the ownership of the Pleasants Power Station at Willow Island.

The filing with the West Virginia Public Service Commission allows First Energy affiliate Allegheny Energy to sell the power plant to the two subsidiaries.

The deal could be an advantage to consumers, who would see a $1 reduction in their monthly electric bills, based on 1,000 kilowatt hours of usage a month.

But it's also seen as a sign the power plant, in operation since the late 1970'S, is likely for years to continue to be a major contributor to Pleasants County's, and the area's economy.

"We have been told by administration that the plant is stable and will be there for a long time to come," said Pleasants County Commissioner Jay Powell. "However, I believe this transaction is an assurance that's going to occur."

"It's still conditional upon public service and federal regulatory approval," notes Jody Murphy, Executive Director of the Pleasants County Development Authority. "But it's another step toward keeping that plant open."

200 people work at the plant, which uses nearly 3.5 million tons of coal each year, and pays millions in property taxes. It had a major renovation nearly a decade ago of its coal scrubber system.

But First Energy says the major reason for the planned sale is to overcome an expected shortfall in power generating capacity for both Mon Power and Potomac Edison.

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