Curtis Tate Published

Future Of Mitchell Power Plant Becomes Campaign Issue, In Kentucky

A yellow bulldozer moves a mound of black coal at a power plant in West Virginia.
The coal pile at the Mountaineer Power Plant in Mason County, West Virginia.
David Adkins/West Virginia Public Broadcasting

Kentucky residents may have heard this political ad recently:

“Coal powers Kentucky. But coal-fired power plants are being shut down by Joe Biden, and politicians like Daniel Cameron are doing nothing to stop it. I’m supporting Kelly Craft, because she stands with Kentucky coal.”

Craft, the former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, and Cameron, Kentucky’s attorney general, are vying for the Republican nomination for governor.

In ads and mailers, Craft has been going after Cameron for something he recommended nearly two years ago: The state public service commission should let a power plant shut down.

Kentucky Power’s Mitchell plant in Moundsville, West Virginia, supplies electricity to about 165,000 customers in 20 eastern Kentucky counties.

The plant needs upgrades, paid for by ratepayers. West Virginia regulators approved them. Kentucky’s did not.

Cameron argued that the plant didn’t employ Kentucky workers or contribute to the state’s economy. He favored letting the half of Mitchell that Kentucky Power owns shutter in 2028.

Craft’s ad and mailer cite reporting by West Virginia Public Broadcasting in 2021 with its regional partner at the time, the Ohio Valley ReSource.

The mailer was printed to look like a notice of a rate increase.

In a recent tweet, Cameron said, “I’ll never stop fighting back against climate alarmists who threaten our coal and natural gas industries.”

Craft is married to Joe Craft, a coal company executive, and served in former President Donald Trump’s White House. Cameron has the endorsement of Trump, who campaigned on reviving coal.

But coal-fired power plants are shutting down, because they’ve not been competitive with natural gas, and more recently, renewables. While natural gas is the dominant fuel for producing electricity, renewables surpassed coal last year for the first time.

Mitchell is one of three West Virginia coal plants that will get new wastewater treatment systems to keep them operating beyond 2028, with ratepayers covering the cost.

Meanwhile, the Mitchell plant remains in operation while American Electric Power attempts to sell its Kentucky Power subsidiary.

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission denied the sale in December, but AEP has applied once again to sell Kentucky Power to Algonquin, a Canadian company that plans to replace coal with renewables.

Craft and Cameron are among 12 Republicans in the race to challenge Gov. Andy Beshear, a Democrat, in November. The coal issue is likely to come up in their next debate in April.