Cities defend ratepayers in Mon Power bid to buy Harrison - Beckley, Bluefield & Lewisburg News, Weather, Sports

Cities defend ratepayers in Mon Power bid to buy Harrison

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Lewisburg and Morgantown city councils passed resolutions May 21 regarding Mon Power's billion-dollar proposal to by the Harrison power station.

Lewisburg's 5-0 resolution opposes the proposal before the Public Service Commission of West Virginia, in which Mon Power would meet growing power demand by acquiring the 80 percent it does not own of the coal-fired Harrison power station.

Some say the plant is overvalued and that, rather than deepening its dependence on one fuel, the utility should diversify away from coal to other fuels and place a greater emphasis on energy efficiency.

"Be It Resolved that the Lewisburg City Council objects to the proposed transfer because of the high costs and unnecessary hardships that would be imposed on the city and its ratepayers," reads the resolution.

"Everyone sees rate increase very directly and I think people here were happy on January 1 to see the reduction that showed up," said Lewisburg Mayor John Manchester, referring to a decrease of $6 per month, for the average residential user, that became possible because of lower power prices due largely to cheap natural gas.

Mon Power has said the Harrison purchase would raise the monthly bill about $1/month above the 2012 level, or about $7/month from the current level.

"The concept of having to raise it back up above that level to pay for a power plant, it was just hard to explain how that could have value to ratepayers here," Manchester said.

The resolution Morgantown council passed by a vote of 5-2 focuses especially on savings the city has realized through its own focus on energy efficiency. The resolution was first proposed by the Morgantown Green Team and was modified by council to express concern to the commission rather than to oppose the power plant purchase.

"Some council members felt that all of the information wasn't available and didn't want to oppose something that had such a high dollar value to it without knowing all the complexities of the arrangement," said Morgantown City Manager Jeff Mikorski.

"We had both the Green Team and Mon Power at our last Committee of the Whole meeting to talk about it," Mikorski said. "One thing Mon Power said is that it's not only the transfer of the station that may increase rates  —  the alternative of trying to do energy efficiency programs may also increase rates. So it's not as clear-cut a decision as both sides would say it is."

Passing a resolution that opposes the transfer outright would pass judgment on an issue that is very complex, said Morgantown Council Member Wes Nugent.

"I think the ones who didn't vote for it took a more extreme view that we should not be involved," Nugent said. "I do think we speak for ratepayers and have a role. A resolution of concern is enough to ask the PSC to do what they should do to take a hard look at this transfer."

The evidentiary hearing in case number 12-1571 will take place May 29-31 and may be viewed on the commission's website.