West Virginia’s four largest electric utilities have revealed plans for what the state’s power production might look like over the next 10 years.
First Energy’s and American Electric Power’s West Virginia subsidiaries filed their integrated resource plans, a type of roadmap used by power companies, with the state Public Service Commission on Dec. 30.
While the companies have conducted integrated resource planning in the past, this is the first time the utilities have been required to make the plans public in West Virginia, after a bill passed by the West Virginia Legislature in 2014 and the PSC issued an order last year.
The planning documents, which rely on cost calculations, electric demand data and energy forecasts, highlight where the electricity for homes and businesses in West Virginia may come from in the coming decade and give a vague understanding of what investments might be made by the companies in order to supply that power.
For Appalachian Power and Wheeling Power, the plans show that both American Electric Power subsidiaries will continue to rely on the John Amos, Mitchell and Mountaineer coal-fired plants to supply a majority of the energy needed for their 475,000 customers in West Virginia. But the documents also highlight Appalachian Power’s attempt to diversify its energy portfolio, adding more solar and wind energy, as the company moves closer to 2025.
It’s a different story for the Mon Power and Potomac Edison. The First Energy subsidiaries will continue to provide roughly 389,000 customers with electricity largely from the Harrison and Fort Martin coal-fired power plants. But where Appalachian Power expects to move toward alternative energy sources, the First Energy companies are considering additional investments in coal power.
The First Energy resource plan considers purchasing another existing coal-fired power plant in order to meet an expected 700-megawatt deficit by 2020, and it suggests retrofitting the Harrison and Fort Martin plants to let them co-fire with natural gas.
“At a high level, we have identified existing coal plants as the option that appears to be the lowest-cost solution to meet our capacity shortfall,” said Todd Meyers, a spokesman for Mon Power and Potomac Edison. “This option would require an agreement between Mon Power and any seller at a price that allows this to remain the lowest cost solution.”
James Van Nostrand, a West Virginia University law professor and the director of the Center for Energy and Sustainable Development, said co-firing the Harrison and Fort Martin plants is a good course of action, but he can’t understand how buying another coal plant is the best choice for the companies’ ratepayers.
“It’s shocking if they get away with buying more coal,” Van Nostrand said. “It’s a tale of two utilities, in terms of one that gets it and another that is sticking its head in the sand.”
Renewable energy sources like wind and solar are becoming cheaper, as they continue to benefit from reapproved tax incentives. Natural gas has started to outcompete coal as the dominant source of power. Residential and commercial customers have continued to install rooftop solar. The U.S. Supreme Court is set to rule on the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s jurisdiction to regulate aspects of electricity demand. And the Obama administration’s highly-contested Clean Power Plan continues to work its way through the federal court system, even as it begins to affect price outlooks for coal and other carbon-based power after 2022.