CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — The West Virginia House of Delegates has advanced a bill to exempt a struggling coal-fired power plant from a state tax.

Lawmakers in a House finance committee unanimously approved the measure Monday to stop charging FirstEnergy Solutions the $12.5 million tax. It now moves to the full House for consideration.

CEO John W. Judge said the company has been operating in bankruptcy and will be forced to shutter its Pleasants Power Station in Willow Island in the next year without the tax exemption. At least 160 people work at the plant regularly but the number increases when repairs are being made.

"The plant right now is very much on an edge," Judge told lawmakers.

He said the station is the only facility in the state that pays the tax on merchant power plants, which are electricity generating centers that don't sell direct to consumer and aren't subject to rate regulations from the West Virginia Public Service Commission.

Pleasants County Commissioner Jay Powell says the closure of the plant would gut the local economy. Delegates also noted that coal producers and other industries could also be hurt.

Republican Gov. Jim Justice, who owns coal companies, is pushing for the bill and widened the scope of a special legislative session on education so that lawmakers could take up the proposal.

"This bill is so incredibly important because we're talking about saving people's jobs - good coal jobs - and saving entire counties that would be devastated if this plant were to close for good," Justice said in a statement.

FirstEnergy Solutions has been saddled by mounting debt as the company's costly coal and nuclear plants haven't been able to compete with cheaper energy sources such as natural gas and renewables.

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