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Recently revised federal regulations concerning coal-fired power plants could mean another one will shut down by the end of the decade.

Late last month, Appalachian Power announced it had submitted a request to the Public Service Commission of West Virginia for a rate increase to cover costs of environmental improvements at its three remaining coal-fired power plants in West Virginia: John Amos in Putnam County, Mountaineer in Mason County and Mitchell in Marshall County.

“Our request in the filing includes upgrades necessary to comply with the Coal Combustion Residuals (CCR) rule and Effluent Limitation Guidelines (ELG) rule at the Amos, Mountaineer and Mitchell plants, which would allow these plants to continue to operate through 2040. The filing also includes an alternative of CCR-only compliance for the Mitchell Plant, which would require retiring the plant in 2028,” Appalachian Power spokesman Phil Moye wrote in an email to The Herald-Dispatch.

“For Amos and Mountaineer our analysis demonstrates complying with both the CCR and ELG rules and operating both plants through 2040 will be less costly for customers than the next best option, which is CCR-Only compliance and retiring one or both plants in 2028.

“For Mitchell our analysis demonstrates complying with both the CCR and ELG rules and operating the plant through 2040 will be more costly for customers than CCR-only compliance and retiring the plant in 2028.”

The economic effects of losing Mitchell go beyond Marshall County. Last year, Mitchell took delivery of about 2.6 million tons of coal mined in West Virginia, with part of that coming from Kanawha and Boone counties. Mitchell also bought coal from mines in Pennsylvania and Ohio.

Large coal-burning plants such as these are about the only kind left in the AEP system. Smaller plants, such as Kanawha River in Kanawha County and Philip Sporn in Mason County, have already been retired because, one, they were too small to justify the sort of investment AEP needs to make at Amos, Mountaineer and Sporn to keep them in compliance with new environmental regulations, and, two, they just aren’t competitive any longer with gas and renewables.

AEP has retired or sold nearly 13,500 megawatts of coal-fired generating capacity in the past decade, according to Nick Akins, AEP’s chairman, president and CEO.

“As we look at the future of our power plant fleet, we’ve balanced the remaining life and economic viability of each of our coal-fueled generating units with other options for delivering power to our customers. We continue to add lower cost, cleaner resources, like renewables and natural gas, as we diversify our generating fleet to benefit our customers and the environment,” Akins said in a statement last month.

So now this question moves to the regulatory arena here in West Virginia. There will be document filings and Public Service Commission hearings. Unless economic, political and regulatory conditions change, West Virginia is about to lose another coal-fired power plant, and the mines that produce coal that is burned in power plants are about to lose yet another market.

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