WV’s Newest Power Plant Dedicated

The State Journal
20 October 2016
By Jim Ross

West Virginia’s newest power plant was dedicated Tuesday, Oct. 18, with calls to streamline the process for building more.

American Municipal Power dedicated the hydroelectric plant at the Willow Island Locks and Dam on the Ohio River in Pleasants County. The ceremony also celebrated the dedication of two others it’s building or has built on the Ohio River — at the Cannelton Locks and Dam and at the Smithland Locks and Dam, both in Kentucky.

Marc Gerken, president and CEO of AMP, said hydroelectric power is a reliable baseload source that is predictable and reliable, and it has no waste stream.

U.S. Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., said the United States need an all-of-the-above strategy of baseload and intermittent generation to meet the nation’s’ power needs.

The 10-year time period needed by a hydroelectric plant such as the one at Willow Island for permitting and construction is too long, she said.

“We should have a regulatory process that works with you, not against you,” she told the group assembled on the roof of the power plant.

Capito said she does not want power plant projects to evade environmental regulations, but she sees the need to streamline the permitting process.

Leroy Coleman, director of communications for the National Hydropower Association, said hydropower is the largest source of clean renewable energy in use today.

“Hydropower isn’t topped out. We have so much room for growth,” he said. “We need a regulatory process that’s more timely.”

American Municipal Power is a nonprofit corporation that owns and operates electric facilities. The organizations coordinates, negotiates and develops power-supply options and interconnection agreements.

AMP purchases wholesale electric power it sells to members at rates based on cost and dispatch fees. It has members in Philippi and New Martinsville.

Construction of the Willow Island plant began in the summer of 2011. It went into commercial operation in February. The plant has a listed capacity of 44 megawatts and is expected to produce 239,000 megawatt hours per year.

The Cannelton plant began commercial production in June. The 88-megawatt plant is expected to produce 459,000 MWh annually. The 76-MW Smithland plant is expected to begin production in early 2017 and produce 379,000 MWh annually.

Steve Dupee, chairman of the AMP board of directors, said AMP officials decided in 2002 that they needed to own more baseload power. It was a time when AMP’s member utilities were buying 60 percent of their electricity on the open market, he said.

Adding member-owned generating capacity would reduce its members exposure to the unpredictable costs of buying electricity on the open market, and it would diversify AMP’s portfolio.

Part of that process was the decision to build four run-of-river projects simultaneously, Dupee said. Those were the three dedicated Tuesday, along with a hydroelectric plant on the Kentucky side of the Meldahl Locks and Dam, developed jointly with AMP member Hamilton, Ohio.

But building a hydroelectric power plant is not an inexpensive undertaking. Per megawatt hour produced, a hydroelectric plant is about as expensive as a nuclear plant. The advantage of a hydroelectric plant is that once the debt service is paid off after 30 to 35 years, operating costs are low, Gerken said.

AMP’s first wholly owned hydroelectric plant on the Ohio was on the West Virginia side of the Belleville Locks and Dam, in Wood County near the Jackson County line. Gerken said that plant came online in 2000.

“In 2007 we had a good five or six years of history, and the numbers were comfortable,” he said in an interview following the ceremony.
The downside is the up front capital cost, he said. But AMP’s member utilities are not controlled by stockholders, so they can look at the long term and not have to worry so much about short-term returns, he said.

AMP’s four new hydroelectric plants, a coal-burning plant and a gas-burning plant are a $6.5 billion undertaking, Gerken said. In 2006, AMP was asset-poor, so it had to demonstrate it could handle such a debt load, he said.

Part of the cost was financed through the federal government’s Build America Bonds, he said. The hydroelectric plants qualify for renewable energy credits, but “it’s not very impactual,” Gerken said.