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Moundsville Residents Urged to Fight For Mitchell Power Plant

Photos by Alan Olson U.S. Rep. David McKinley, R-W.Va., encourages people to speak out in support of the continued operation of the Mitchell power plant.

MOUNDSVILLE — Dozens of concerned locals turned out Tuesday night to organize a resistance to the proposed closure of the Mitchell Power Plant south in Marshall County.

More than 60 residents, including numerous men on behalf of United Mine Workers of America, attended a town hall meeting at the Moundsville Volunteer Fire Department, which was organized by Del. Charlie Reynolds. There, numerous local government representatives urged locals to speak with one voice a united message: save the local power plant.

Chris Hamilton, Senior Vice President of the West Virginia Coal Association, said the future of the plant would be decided by public response and pushback to a proposed option which may see the plant shuttered by 2028.

“This case is going to be decided by whether or not we can rally this community, that’s impacted more than anybody else,” Hamilton said, “and whether we can stand up and speak up collectively for these jobs at stake.

“You all know the economic impact,” he continued. “I refer to the eight coal-fired plants around the state as ‘magic kingdoms’ because I think they’re that important, when you consider all the upstream jobs, all the coal transportation jobs, all the downstream economics, the infusion of tax dollars for education programs, investments.”

The Mitchell plant is the subject of an ongoing proceeding before the West Virginia Public Service Commission. Appalachian Power and its subsidiary, Wheeling Power, filed in December an application for a certificate to make internal modifications at three of its coal-fired generating plants — the Amos Plant in Winfield, the Mountaineer Plant in Letart and the Mitchell Plant.

According to the companies, they must make those modifications to comply with federal environmental regulations.

They provided two cost estimates for that construction. The first costs $317 million and keeps all three plants open until 2040. The second costs $286 million, keeps the Amos and Mountaineer plants open until 2040, but keeps the Mitchell Plant open only until 2028.

Wendy Braswell, a staff member of the Public Service Commission — who clarified that she did not speak on the commission’s behalf — said that internally, staff had recommended the commission side with the option which keeps all plants open until 2040. She added that a decision from the commission was requested by the end of July.

“Sometimes the commission adopts our recommendations, and sometimes it does not,” she said.” We did file a recommendation in this case, and we recommended the commission approve … alternative one,” she said.

The Mitchell Power Plant, a 1,560-megawatt, coal-fueled power plant that has been operating since 1971 and employs 200 people

“We’re somewhere in the neighborhood of $17 billion of overall economic activity,” Hamilton added. “Don’t let anybody tell you that coal is dying. Don’t let anyone tell you coal is a dinosaur. … We’re still every bit as relevant today as we were 20 years ago.”

U.S. Rep. David McKinley, R-W.Va., encouraged locals to speak up and fiercely defend the Mitchell plant, as he said opposition to the coal industry in Washington was relentless. McKinley presented a letter to the PSC seeking their support to keep the plant until 2040.

“We’ve signed this letter. Now, what we need to do is for you to go out and do it,” he said. “We took the first step, but … don’t sit back and say, ‘I’ll wait for someone else to do it.’ or ‘I’ll sign a petition.’ Individual letters are going to make far more of an impression for what we’re trying to do. That’s my challenge to you.”

Del. Lisa Zukoff, D-Marshall, said she had been paying out of pocket for publications advising residents on how to make their voices heard to the commission, and even offered to take dictated letters for residents less familiar with submitting letters electronically.

“This would economically devastate our community if this plant closes,” she said. “There’s no more important people than those who work, and bring in revenue for our counties, and your families. I get it. My grandpap was a coal miner, my husband was a coal miner, and he lost his job 30 years ago.”

Hamilton additionally floated the idea of reconvening at the VFD building at 9:30 a.m. June 2 for a virtual public hearing before the commission, or possibly taking further steps, such as appearing in person.

“My challenge to you is, if we come right back here to this room, and partner with the county commission, coal association, and local leaders here, … and prepare just a couple words of support for the Mitchell coal-fired plant; (WVCA vice president Jason Bostic) and I will come back. … Maybe do we want to take that a step further, and charter a bus to the Public Service Commission, like we would go to Congress if there were a hearing on mining? We’ve all done that before to go before a legislative meeting — I just want to throw that out there.”

The public comment period ends June 8.

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