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SCC to rule later on Appalachian Power's plans to go all-green

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After three days of testimony and arguments about Appalachian Power Co.’s renewable energy future, a hearing examiner with the State Corporation Commission will issue a written opinion later.

At the end of the hearing Monday afternoon, Mary Beth Adams said her decision is required “pretty quickly.”

The SCC must sort through a mountain of documents and weigh dueling testimony from experts before deciding whether to approve Appalachian’s plan on how it will comply with the Virginia Clean Economy Act.

Passed in 2020, the law is intended to fight climate change by requiring Appalachian to provide its approximately 540,000 Virginia customers with all renewable energy by 2050.

The utility – which has relied mostly on coal and natural gas in recent years to generate about 85% of its electricity – filed its plan with the SCC in late December. Commission staff, the Virginia Attorney General’s Office and about a half-dozen organizations and businesses are participating in the complicated process.

“This is a whole new world,” SCC attorney Kiva Pierce said, borrowing a phrase from the Disney movie Aladdin.

Appalachian is seeking SCC approval to acquire a solar farm in Pittsylvania County and to purchase electricity from three others in Bedford, Louisa and Rockingham counties. The plan also calls for the company to own a wind farm in Logan County, Illinois, and a solar farm in Berkeley County, West Virginia, among other things.

That is for the upcoming rate year that starts in August. An updated plan with additional purchases is required annually by the Clean Economy Act.

To recover the $32 million in costs for renewable energy over the next year, the investor-owed utility is proposing a rate increase that would add $2.37 to the bill of an average residential customer, or one that uses 1,000 kilowatt hours of electricity a month.

Rate increases would be much higher, Appalachian argues, if it must make a more rapid transformation to wind and solar energy.

Appalachian is asking the SCC to allow it to continue burning coal through 2040 at two large power plants in West Virginia, which currently generate about two-thirds of its output to customers in Virginia, West Virginia and Tennessee.

After Adams makes a recommendation, the case will go to the full SCC for a final decision.

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Laurence Hammack covers environmental issues, including the Mountain Valley Pipeline, and business and enterprise stories. He has been a reporter for The Roanoke Times for more than three decades.

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