Daily Independent (Ashland, KY)

Local News

May 14, 2013

Plant hearing draws crowd

150 signed up to speak to commission

LOUISA — A hearing for comments about a proposal to allow Kentucky Power to buy a 50-percent interest in a coal-fired power plant in Mitchell in Moundsville, W.V. as part of a plan to close the Big Sandy power plant in Lawrence County drew an often angry-sounding crowd to the community center in Louisa Tuesday evening.

A spokesman for the Public Service Commission said 150 people signed up to speak, although many seemed to have left by the time commissioners Jim Garland and Linda Breathitt arrived an hour later. During the first hour, Public Service Commission communications director Andrew Melnykovych explained the hearing was for comments only, and would not be a forum for questions and answers, and himself fielded several questions about the hearing process.

Ron Robinson of Kentucky Power did attempt to answer some questions, although he made it clear he did not have answers for some of the things being asked. In response to one question, Robinson said the average residential electric bill in Kentucky is $94 per month, earning him considerable criticism from others in the audience who clearly stated they did not believe the figure quoted to be accurate.

“That decision has far bigger ramifications than the case before you ...,” said State Rep Rocky Adkins, who pointed out Kentucky Power submitted a request for a certificate of need to place scrubbers on the Big Sandy plant to meet environmental regulations, “arguing that it was the least cost option for Kentucky rate payers,” but withdrew the request before the PSC could make a decision which might have allowed the Big Sandy plant to remain in operation. Adkins noted the Big Sandy plant and the Mitchell plant are of the same design, with similar age and operating costs. If allowed to purchase half of the interests at the Mitchell plant and close the Big Sandy plant, Adkins said Kentucky rate payers will be paying for jobs in West Virginia and paying taxes to government agencies in that state as well.

Adkins also questioned the numbers submitted by Kentucky Power, and asked the PSC to consider the economic impact of their decision.

“Abandoning Big Sandy Unit 2 will mean the loss of more than 150 full-time jobs at the plant,” Adkins said, adding the broader impact upon coal sales and severance taxes, with Lawrence County projected to lose $900,000 in annual taxes, including $500,000 for schools and $60,000 for the library system.

Mike Hogan, county attorney for Lawrence County, said losses from elimination of the Big Sandy plant would have urged the commissioners to reject the proposal, saying the effect on the county would be devastating, including the immediate loss of two deputies “in a county that has a epidemic of drug problems.”

“This loss is unsustainable,” Hogan said, noting the loss of tax revenue would also cut 10 teachers from the school system, a nurse from the health department and bond money to pay for library construction. “The people of Lawrence County and Louisa would never recover.”

Lawrence County Schools superintendent Mike Armstrong cited the loss of tax revenues for the schools system and asked the PSC or Kentucky Power to consider establishing a special electric rate for public schools.

TIM PRESTON can be reached at tpreston@dailyindependent.com or (606) 326-2651.

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