"The issue of risk, this isn't exclusive to coal," Patton said. "We don't know what will happen with fracking . . . to suggest that (natural gas) somehow goes unscathed in the future, none of us know — those are risks that we take."
He said the current plants are known assets that would merge well with Appalachian Power's system, take advantage of local coal opportunities and save consumers over the long run.
"If you have a coal plant and it's compliant with the EPA — and you can factor in $15 carbon tax — and you can still beat alternatives by hundreds of millions of dollars," he said. "It just seems like the right thing to do."
Other witnesses disagreed with Appalachian's assessment.
David Allen Schlissel, a consultant hired by West Virginia Citizen Action Group, said the company has overstated the projected price of alternatives to coal-fired plants.
He said the company's projections for 2012, which were compiled in 2011, far exceeded actual prices observed last year for natural gas and power purchased from other states.
"The company's low projection was more than 33 percent higher than actual," Schlissel said. "And this is the first year — this is the time when any long-term forecast is likely to be more accurate."
Citizen Action Group and Sierra Club attorneys also question whether Appalachian Power has adequately factored in potential environmental costs for coal ash cleanup.
They said that coal ash could be a potential liability in the future, the costs of which would ultimately be forced onto ratepayers.
The hearing is expected to last at least two more days. A total of 19 witnesses are expected to testify this week, though only a handful made it to the witness stand Monday.
After the hearing, commissioners will take several weeks to review the evidence and analyze filings. A decision is expected later this year.
Contact writer Jared Hunt at busin...@dailymail.com or 304-348-4836.
Other Top Headlines