"Most utilities in the region are shedding their exposure to increasingly expensive coal," he said, "not doubling down on it."

Rather than grow capacity, he said, utilities should focus on reducing demand â¿¿ as pending legislation in West Virginia would require.

The Energy Efficiency Resource Standard bill proposes that utilities reduce both electricity sales and demand by 15 percent by 2025.

Energy Efficient West Virginia, a coalition that includes the Ohio Valley group, says the bill also would require that utilities help customers save money by making their homes and businesses more efficient.

The bill could be administered either by the utilities themselves or a third-party agency. Advocates say the program has already been successful in neighboring Ohio and Pennsylvania, though both states are in the early stages of implementation.

Mon Power, however, says energy efficiency programs and reduced demand aren't practical solutions to the significant capacity shortfall it faces.

Buying the Harrison Power Station is much more cost-efficient than buying electricity on the spot market, Meyers said. And with consumer demand expected to grow 1.4 percent per year in West Virginia, that shortfall will only grow.

Relying on market sources also creates "significant risk" for Mon Power's 385,500 customers in the northern half of West Virginia and 132,000 Potomac Edison customers in the Eastern Panhandle, the utility says.

"Our proposed generation transaction ensures a continued supply of reliable, low-cost electricity for our West Virginia customers for years to come," Meyers said in an email. "This is an affordable plan designed to create greater rate stability for our customers."

The Harrison Power Station employs more than 200 workers and supports mining jobs.

Mon Power also calls it "one of the largest and cleanest coal-fired plants in the nation," with nearly $1 billion invested in scrubbers that now remove 98 percent of the sulfur dioxide emissions and other systems that remove at least 90 percent of nitrogen oxide from flue gases.

Copyright 2011 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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