Last Wednesday, the WV Supreme Court issued a ruling rejecting the WV Citizens Action Group appeal of WV PSC Commissioners McKinney’s and Albert’s contorted ruling approving the transfer of the Harrison Power Station from one part of Ohio-based holding company FirstEnergy to the other, leaving WV rate payers paying a heavy price for the next 26 years.
As it did with the TrAIL case, the WV Supreme Court ducked its statutory duty as the highest state court of appeal for all WV PSC rulings. Here’s how the justices framed their decision:
This Court’s standard of reviewing the Commission’s order in this case is highly deferential given that this case involves complex issues and arcane concepts that fall within the special competence of the Commission and are governed by Commission precedent. This Court previously has recognized that “[a] public utility commission has broad powers in supervising and regulating the actions of utilities within its jurisdiction in the respects provided for in the statutory or constitutional provisions by which its authority is conferred.” United Fuel Gas Co. v. PSC, 154 W. Va. 221, 241, 174 S.E.2d 304, 316 (1969) (citation omitted). Further, this Court has recognized that “on questions of expediency, or as to what would be best in the interest of the petitioner, or the public served . . . the Legislature intended that the judgment of the [Public Service] Commission should prevail.” United Fuel Gas Co. v. PSC, 73 W. Va. 571, 591, 80 S.E. 931, 939 (1914).
In short, the tradition of the WV Supreme Court is to essentially leave the WV PSC as a law unto itself. As the citations indicate, this is a long tradition of ducking responsibility.
The WV CAG appeal got into all the details of the tortured PSC ruling in the Harrison case, but the fundamental issues are really pretty simple. FirstEnergy created a fake transaction between subsidiaries at a significantly jacked up price to pass all the risk of coal-fired electricity onto the rate payers of Mon Power and Potomac Edison, without seriously considering any other alternatives.
Throughout the PSC case, FirstEnergy repeated the big lie that Harrison is a “valuable asset” at the same time that similar coal-fired plants were selling on the open market at one third to one half the price FirstEnergy was dumping on its WV rate payers. And now we see Duke Energy unloading 13 Midwest power plants, most of them coal-fired.
This big coal dump will be followed by more according to the Bloomberg article:
“We’ve been expecting this for some time,” Julien Dumoulin-Smith, a New York-based analyst for UBS AG, said today in a phone interview, noting utility investors are seeking stable returns. “We expect a lot of other publicly traded utilities will follow suit in the next 24 months.”
So what do you think the market value of the Harrison plant will be in a year or so with possibly dozens of similar plants hitting the market? Certainly not the wildly inflated price that the Supreme Court and Commissioners McKinney and Albert are cramming down WV rate payers’ throats.
Among all the regulators and judges who ruled on this blatantly fraudulent “transaction” only PSC Commissioner Ryan Palmer stood up for West Virginia and honest dealing.