CHARLESTON, W.VA.: Consumer, environmental and retiree groups packed a Public Service Commission chamber Wednesday, though only a few were permitted to complain about rate increases and other flaws they see in a proposed $1 billion power plant sale between two FirstEnergy Corp. subsidiaries.

The AARP, Sierra Club, West Virginia-Citizen Action and other groups argue the Harrison Power Station is overvalued, and the deal concentrates too heavily on coal.

They also complain it does nothing to promote energy efficiency. Making consumers more efficient users of electricity would reduce demand, critics argue, and that would eventually save money.

But officials with the Akron-based utility defended the deal as a cost-effective way to meet a current shortfall in electricity production for customers of both Mon Power in northern West Virginia and Appalachian Power in the south.

FirstEnergy says the deal is a cheaper way to meet demand than buying power on the spot market.

Allegheny Energy Supply would transfer full ownership of the plant to Mon Power, which currently owns 20 percent. In exchange, Mon Power would then sell its share of the Pleasants Power station to AE Supply.

“There really are real benefits to Mon Power to control their own destiny and own this asset,” said Michael Delmar, FirstEnergy’s director of regulated generation dispatch.

FirstEnergy says the deal would provide about 1,500 megawatts of additional power, or enough to supply about 1 million homes. That would meet demand through 2020, and excess capacity could be sold on the spot market to help offset costs to consumers.

Testimony before the commission will continue through Friday with more than two dozen witnesses expected. A decision, however, may be months away.

Chairman Michael Albert said the proposed transaction is complex and raises a number of conflicting issues for the commission to consider.

“This is not an easy decision,” he said.

The commission said it received about 1,100 comments opposing the deal and more than 500 supporting it.

FirstEnergy is proposing to fund the deal with an annual surcharge of $63.4 million, or a rate increase of about 6 percent for residential and commercial customers.

Parties on both sides of the deal submitted thousands of pages of testimony before the hearing. The proceedings now under way let attorneys cross-examine those witnesses orally.

If approved, the transaction still would require approval from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.

Supporters of the deal include Local 304 of the Utility Workers Union of America, the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers’ District 4, the West Virginia Coal Association, the United Mine Workers of America and Pennsylvania-based CONSOL Energy.

The Harrison Power Station employs more than 200 workers and supports the operation of CONSOL’s Robinson Run mine, where a belt feeds coal directly from the mine to the plant. That mine employs some 400 people.

The FirstEnergy case is one of two such proposals the PSC is weighing. Ohio-based American Electric Power wants to transfer its John Amos plant near St. Albans and its Mitchell facility near Moundsville to Appalachian Power, a Charleston subsidiary. A hearing on that case is set for mid-July.