ST. MARYS, WV (WOWK) There have been significant developments this week in the efforts to save a power plant in Pleasants County, West Virginia. Until recently, the Pleasants Power Station was slated to be demolished, but local and state leaders have been on a mission to keep that from happening.
After years of wondering what the future holds for the Pleasants Power Station there is a sense of optimism in the air in St. Marys. This week, Pleasants County Commission President Jay Powell revealed that Omnis Fuel Technologies has a letter of intent to buy the plant.
“This will sound maybe corny, but we’ve worked hard, and we’ve prayed even harder that that would happen. The community realizes what is at stake here,” Powell said.
It is far from a done deal, but Powell said he is hopeful the purchase can happen as soon as late summer. The journey to this point has been a long one. For people like Debbie Ramsey who have lived in Pleasants County their entire lives, it isn’t just a power plant.
“A lot of people lost their lives when they were building this plant back in the 70’s,” Ramsey said. “Matter of fact 51 men lost their lives and I think they have to come up with some way to keep the plant open.”
She is referring to an incident that happened at Willow Island in 1978 that is recognized as the worst non-mining disaster in West Virginia History and one of the deadliest construction accidents ever in the United States. Fifty-one workers were killed while building a cooling tower. They were working on scaffolding 168 feet above the ground when it collapsed. Many of those who died were from families still connected to the area. The thought of the plant shutting down stirs strong emotions.
“I’d be very sad about it because some men have worked there all of their lives, since maybe they graduated from high school. And then all of a sudden to see that plant gone and they are older and then what do they do at that point,” Ramsey said.
Until recently the facility was owned by Energy Harbor. That company transferred control of the plant to Energy Transition and Environmental Management or ETEM.
“The makeup of their company is they buy power plants and they essentially tear them down for environmental purposes. They bring them to the ground and then market the property,” Powell explained.
During the last legislative session lawmakers in West Virginia passed SB609 which helped in the fight to keep the plant open.
“That bill said essentially you just can’t come into the state of West Virginia and tear down a power plant without going through specific clarifications as to why and that it is a necessity to do so.”
The 154 employees working at Pleasants Power Station now, work for Energy Harbor. Even though the facility was slated to be shut down as far back as 2018, through tax breaks and negotiations it has remained open. That has bought stakeholders time to find a solution.
The bulk of the focus has been on Mon Power and Potomac Edison moving toward leasing and potentially buying the plant.
Now with Omnis signing a letter of intent, there are more options.
“Mon Power would operate the plant, if they would proceed forward after doing their analytics, like they would with any coal fired power plant, continue to operate it ‘as is’ so to speak,” Powell explained. “Omnis on the other hand they run by hydrogen, so it would be a more green technology that would be operating the plant. But the big factor there is coal would still be needed for both and the other big factor is the employees would be needed.”
The Mon Power and Potomac Edison proposal attracted scrutiny because it would place an additional financial burden on power customers.
“We definitely want to support the economy in West Virginia, there’s no question about that but using government to force our citizens to pay more in order to subsidize one business is not fair and not capitalism,” said Emmett Pepper, Policy Director at Energy Efficient West Virginia.
Pepper has gone to the West Virginia Public Service Commission to fight against the idea of saddling rate payers with added costs.
“One proposal right now is just to pay the plant workers to work there and not produce any power for up to a year. That would be over $3 million a month that rate payers would pay,” said Pepper.
Powell said the investment from rate payers would be worth it in the long run.
“As far as the rate payers are concerned it is a few dollars a month,” Powell said. “Keep in mind I am emphasizing a few dollars a month, literally. I think the analytics show 2 dollars and some odd cents. So, I mean for the price of safety, I think it is very minimal.”
Pepper said right now he isn’t clear on how the Omnis proposal would work and he doesn’t have a position on the company’s involvement at this time.
While the exact course the plant will take into the future is still up in the air, those committed to keeping it open are celebrating the possibilities.
“I don’t have a magic wand that I can guarantee because this is outside of my realm, but we are going to absolutely not quit until we someway somehow make this a reality,” said West Virginia Governor Jim Justice.
In addition to the direct jobs at the facility, Justice said there are multiple other coal related jobs associated with the facility. The business manager for a local union also tells 13 News there are hundreds more additional jobs associated with maintenance contractors who do work at Pleasants Power Station.