Murray Energy frets following FirstEnergy Solutions bankruptcy

ALMOST READY — Coal is nearly ready for shipping to market at the Murray Energy Corp. transloading facility along state Route 7 in Powhatan Point. Murray officials fear the bankruptcy of FirstEnergy Solutions will lead to the closure of more coal-fired power plants. -- Casey Junkins

POWHATAN POINT — The cold smoke stacks of the closed Kammer power plant in Marshall County loom as the backdrop at Murray Energy Corp.’s coal transloading station along state Route 7.

Murray officials fear this may be an ominous sign of things to come, now that FirstEnergy Solutions is seeking bankruptcy protection. This company is a newly formed subsidiary of Akron, Ohio-based FirstEnergy Corp., as the parent firm is not in bankruptcy.

Murray spokesman Gary Broadbent blames much of FirstEnergy’s trouble on the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission for not complying with the Trump administration’s plan to invoke the Federal Power Act.

“Indeed, what makes this matter even more hurtful is that this bankruptcy could have been avoided, had the (FERC) done its job and enacted the Department of Energy’s Sept. 29 Grid Resiliency Pricing Rule, which sought to ensure the reliability, resiliency and security of the electric power grids in our country,” Broadbent said.

“As a result of FERC’s failure, critical power plants will close, thousands of American jobs will be lost, and the reliability, resiliency and security of our electric power grids will be forever compromised,” Broadbent added.

According to Harvard Law School, the Sept. 29 rule Broadbent refers to would have invoked the Federal Power Act, with the intent to “carve coal-fired and nuclear-powered generators out of the competitive market and provide them with a rate that guaranteed their profitability.”

In a 5-0 vote earlier this year, FERC board members rejected the plan from Trump’s Energy Department.

“Unfortunately, we fear that this destructive FERC decision will cause further decommissioning of nuclear and coal-fired generation, which will further exacerbate this critical situation,” Broadbent said. “Additionally, the cost of electricity will skyrocket, which is particularly harmful for our citizens on fixed incomes, single income families and manufacturers of products for the global marketplace.”

FirstEnergy closed the former R.E. Burger coal-fired plant at Dilles Bottom several years ago. In 2016, the company announced plans to close four coal-fired units at the W.H. Sammis Plant in Jefferson County by 2020.

The Sammis plant was an Ohio Edison operation until that company merged with Centerior in 1997 to form FirstEnergy.

In February, FirstEnergy officials said they would close the 1,300-megawatt plant at Willow Island in Pleasants County, W.Va.

At this time, the utility does not plan to close the 1,098-megawatt Fort Martin Plant in Maidsville, W.Va., or the 1,984 megawatt Harrison Plant in Haywood, W.Va., in Harrison County.

According to PJM Interconnection, which operates the power grid serving West Virginia and Ohio, a single megawatt can power as many as 1,000 homes.

Another major electricity provider is Columbus, Ohio-based American Electric Power. The firm deactivated the 630-megawatt Kammer facility in June 2015, along with several other coal-fired plants throughout Appalachia.

At the time of these shutdowns, AEP officials were trying to comply with pending Obama administration environmental regulations, specifically the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards and the Clean Power Plan.

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