ST. MARYS- A regulatory agency in West Virginia has ordered the parent company of the Willow Island Power Station to delay its planned closure of the coal-fired plant.
The West Virginia Public Service Commission is reviewing FirstEnergy's justifications in deciding to close the Pleasants County plant, one of three in West Virginia slated for retirement by Sept. 1 because of efficiency and environmental issues.
Monongahela Power, a subsidiary of FirstEnergy, announced it would close Willow island, the Albright Power Station in Preston County and the Rivesville Power Station in Marion County, impacting 105 employees with 35 at Willow Island.
The decision was based on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's new Mercury and Air Toxics Standards and other environmental regulations, the utility said. FirstEnergy has said the high cost to implement M.A.T.S. and other environmental rules is the reason these Mon Power plants are being retired.
The Public Service Commission issued an order to Monongahela Power to not undertake activity that would render the three plants inoperable until the commission received answers to concerns and have had time to review them. The company had previously filed documents with the PSC outlining its reasons for closing the plants.
"We have some concern, however, that the (documents are) intended to provide only preliminary information in contemplation of a resource plan that is scheduled to be filed on or before Sept. 1, 2012," the commission said. "Further, the (documents do) not provide sufficient information for the commission."
The concern stems from the proposed date for the planned deactivation of the three generating plants, which the company said is no later than Sept. 1, and insufficient information as to the status of the plants after deactivation, the commission said.
The commission said it wants to evaluate the factors that the company believes justifies a planned deactivation, or retirement, of the generating plants, the options considered and the impact on the customers.
"We also would prefer to make that evaluation prior to retirement and prior to a deactivation process that would render the plants inoperable, or that would require extensive expenditures to undo the deactivation process before the plants could be operated either as coal plants, natural gas plants or coal-fired plants," the PSC order stated.
The commission is requesting information regarding the units themselves, the difference between a unit being "mothballed" and a unit being "retired"; provide a timeframe on how long the units would be out of service if expenditures were made to get the unit back in operation; specifics about capacity revenues received for each unit; and other specifics on operations, costs, revenues and employees.
The commission ruled the company will have to respond to the commission's questions by April 30.
"In the meantime, we expect Monongahela Power Co. to not undertake any retirement activities that would render the three West Virginia generation plants inoperable or that would require extensive additional expenditures to restore or repower the plants," the order said.
Mark Durbin, a spokesman for FirstEnergy, Thursday said the company was addressing the commission's initial 17 questions as well as any additional questions it may have.
"We are in the process of providing those answers," he said.
Durbin reiterated the company's position that these are all older plants, which would require a significant investment to bring to environmental code. If the company would have to pay for upgrades, it could result in higher rates for customers, he said.
"It just makes better business sense to close these plants down," Durbin said.
Durbin said there was a lot of time until Sept. 1. The goal is to still have the plants shut down by Sept. 1, but the company wants to make sure the commission's questions are addressed, he said.
"We are continuing to work with them," Durbin said. "It is part of the process, answering any questions the commission has."