With new application guidelines FirstEnergy seeks approval for solar fields

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – – FirstEnergy subsidiaries, Mon Power and Potomac Edison are seeking approval from the Public Service Commission to build five utility-scale solar energy projects that would generate 50 megawatts of clean, renewable energy in their service area. The addition of renewable energy is also expected to help make West Virginia more attractive for business development.

State lawmakers passed a bill in 2020 that allows utilities to own and operate up to 200 megawatts of renewable power generation capability. Bowles Rice attorney Jim Kelsh worked with the legislature to create the expedited path to approval for solar projects.

“That’s the first application by any of the two principal electric utilities in the state to ask the PSC to approve the development of solar generation to be owned by the utilities,” Kelsh said.

Part of the legislation requires the PSC to rule on applications within 150 days, cutting the previous review time in half. By streamlining the Solar Siting Certificate Rules, lawmakers hope to draw projects to create construction jobs and augment economic development.

Executive Director of the West Virginia Development Office, Mike Graney told lawmakers the addition would open the state to recruit employers that have renewable requirements when selecting sites for relocation.

“The PSC has, in the cases I’ve been involved with beat that deadline by a comfortable margin,” Kelsh said. “I’m sure the PSC will meet the deadline for the Mon Power application.”

Solar fields will be constructed in West Virginia on a 26 acre reclaimed ash disposal site in Berkley County, a 51 acre site in Hancock County, 1 44 acre reclaimed strip mine in Tucker County and a 95 acre site in Monongalia County, according to Mon Power spokesman Will Boye.

“This is the first time we’ve ever done this in any state,” Boye said. “We have a team that’s working on it now and we’re going to be hiring local construction workers to help us build these projects.”

The 95 acre site in Monongalia County is located in the Fort Martin area on property currently owned by Mon Power.

“It’s going to generate a little over 10 megawatts of solar energy once we get approval from the state to move forward,” Boye said. “Mon County is one of the largest site.”

The PSC is expected to rule on the application by mid 2022, engineering and construction would then start. Construction could be completed by 2025. Mon Power will invest about $100 million in the five projects.

In 2020, West Virginia was the second-largest coal producer in the nation, after Wyoming, and accounted for 13% of U.S. West Virginia ranked fifth in the nation in natural gas production as well. Eighty-eight percent of the electricity produced in the state in 2020 came from coal-fire energy facilities.

“We see it (solar) as one piece of our generation mix,” Boye said. “Right now, we do not have any renewable options for our customers in West Virginia. So, 50 megawatts and we’ll be able to produce up to 200 megawatts- we don’t see it as replacing anything.”