Nov. 24—FirstEnergy Corp. has sought approval from West Virginia utility regulators to build five utility-scale solar energy projects throughout its state service territory, the company's first such solar projects.
The facilities would generate 50 megawatts of renewable energy, but the projects would not displace the company's current levels of coal-fired generation capacity in accordance with a 2020 state law disallowing renewable energy facilities from doing so.
If the West Virginia Public Service Commission approves FirstEnergy's request, procurement, groundbreaking and permitting would start on the first phase of solar facilities as early as 2022, with all five expected to be completed before the end of 2025.
The proposed sites are a 95-acre site adjacent to the Fort Martin Power Station in Maidsville, Monongalia County; a 44-acre reclaimed strip mine property in Davis, Tucker County; a 26-acre reclaimed ash disposal site for the shuttered R. Paul Smith Power Station along Interstate 81, adjacent to the Potomac River in Marlowe, Berkeley County; a 51-acre site adjacent to Mon Power's Wylie Ridge substation, in Sun Valley, Hancock County; and a 63-acre property adjacent to Cytec Industries' manufacturing plant in Willow Island, Pleasants County.
FirstEnergy subsidiary Mon Power would lease the latter property from Cytec, a specialty chemicals and materials technology company acquired by international chemical company Solvay in 2015. There is no site lease agreement for the proposed Willow Island site according to Monday's filing, which reports that Solvay said earlier this month that it may need the site for a new industrial facility that is considering locating in the area.
If Mon Power loses the Solvay solar site to the new industrial facility, it will amend the filing to add a replacement site of similar size and scope. The other four proposed sites are on lands owned by Mon Power or its affiliates.
The energy produced would be available for purchase by Mon Power and Potomac Edison customers.
Participants in the solar program would receive the equivalent of one solar renewable energy credit for each megawatt hour of energy purchased.
The cost of the solar generation would be paid for by Mon Power and Potomac Edison customers in West Virginia through a solar surcharge until all the energy credits are bought by program participants.
In their request filed with the Public Service Commission Monday, FirstEnergy subsidiaries Mon Power and Potomac Edison ask for the agency to approve a surcharge effective Jan. 1, 2024, to recover the cost of the projects that would be annually revised and a voluntary tariff offered on a first-come, first-serve basis to all customers.
The forecasted surcharge for residential customers would start at 27 cents for a customer that uses 1,000 kilowatt-hours per month — roughly a quarter of 1% of the average monthly residential bill of $106, FirstEnergy spokesman Will Boye said.
But that assumes no subscribers to the solar program, which Mon Power and Potomac Edison noted in their filing is unlikely given the demand the program has already received from potential commercial customers.
The proposed rate for solar power would be $40 per megawatt-hour, or 4 cents per kilowatt-hour.
Capital costs for the five solar project sites are estimated to total $99.6 million, with annual operations and maintenance anticipated to cost from $1 million to $1.5 million.
Mon Power and Potomac Edison noted in their filing they have been evaluating offering solar generation to customers in recent years partly due to customer requests.
FirstEnergy pledged in Nov. 2020 to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050 with a 30% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions at generating facilities from a 2019 baseline by 2030.
Mon Power and Potomac Edison concluded in their integrated resource plan filed with the Public Service Commission in December that coal plants should remain in their generation stack through the planning horizon to 2035.
In their Monday filing with the commission, the companies noted solar generation has no direct greenhouse gas and other emissions, has low operational and maintenance costs and "most importantly, will yield jobs for the state of West Virginia."
FirstEnergy will hire a single contractor to manage all engineering, equipment purchases and construction at the site adjacent to the Fort Martin Power Station and use local union labor. The other four projects will be implemented with a multi-contract approach using local union labor "to the extent possible," according to Monday's filing.
The timetable for construction at the five sites is staggered through 2025 to accommodate different in-service dates. But the timetable will be adjusted as needed depending upon customer demand, the companies said.
The full revenue requirement is forecasted to be $3 million for 2024, $7.5 million for 2025 and $8.8 million for 2026 to reflect the staggered in-service dates of the five separate sites.
The projected in-service dates are December 2023 for the site adjacent to the Fort Martin Power Station; Dec. 31, 2025, for the Davis site; and Dec. 31, 2024, for the other three sites.
Sites controlled by Mon Power would not support the installation of a single 50-megawatt site due to insufficient contiguous property, according to the filing, which contends a single site wouldn't provide enough flexibility in the event that a critical flaw occurs.
Mon Power and Potomac Edison executed 12 memoranda of understanding with commercial and industrial customers interested in adding solar from the companies to their energy mix.
The memoranda of understanding provide a "pronouncement of the current intentions" of the companies and their prospective customers and allow the latter to review the tariff if it is approved and decide what percentage, if any, of solar power it wants to obtain.
The memoranda included in Monday's filing show agreements from May through November between the companies and Cincinnati-based Kroger, Irving, Texas-based 7-Eleven, Inc., Irving, Texas-based Speedway LLC, Wilmington, Delaware-based Chemours Company FC LLC, Weirton-based Cleveland-Cliffs Weirton LLC, Willow Island-based Cytec Industries, Fairmont-based High Technology Foundation, Winchester, Va.-based Berryville Graphics, Waterford, N.Y.-based Momentive Performance Materials USA LLC and Alpharetta, Georgia-based Argos USA.
Monday's filing also includes a letter from Cincinnati-based Procter & Gamble expressing interest in solar opportunities with Potomac Edison as it looks to achieve net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2040.
Interconnection requests have been filed with PJM for all sites, but the Solvay site has not yet been accepted by PJM since there is no lease agreement, according to the filing.
PJM is the regional transmission organization that coordinates wholesale electricity movement in West Virginia and all or parts of 12 other states and Washington, D.C.
Mon Power is awaiting its meeting with PJM on the interconnects and acknowledged that in-service dates could be delayed two to three years if PJM determines it must study the interconnects. Mon Power contended that the distribution interconnects do not require study.
The companies said FirstEnergy had determined that the cost of utility-scale battery storage was prohibitive but allowed that it may become "cost-attractive" in the next five years and merit further evaluation.
The Legislature passed a law in 2020 allowing electric utilities cost recovery for renewable energy facilities. The law caps generating capacity at renewable facilities at 50 megawatts until at least 85% of the facility's annual energy output is being sold or is contracted to be sold.
Mon Power serves about 395,000 customers in 34 counties in the northern and central West Virginia. Potomac Edison serves about 151,000 customers in the Eastern Panhandle.
Editor's note: A previous version of this story listed incorrect counties for the solar projects. The proposed sites are a 95-acre site adjacent to the Fort Martin Power Station in Maidsville, Monongalia County; a 44-acre reclaimed strip mine property in Davis, Tucker County; a 26-acre reclaimed ash disposal site for the shuttered R. Paul Smith Power Station along Interstate 81, adjacent to the Potomac River in Marlowe, Berkeley County; a 51-acre site adjacent to Mon Power's Wylie Ridge substation, in Sun Valley, Hancock County; and a 63-acre property adjacent to Cytec Industries' manufacturing plant in Willow Island, Pleasants County.
Mike Tony covers energy and the environment. He can be reached at 304-348-1236 or mtony
@Mike__Tony on Twitter.
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