Six Coal-Fired Power Plants Closing

Friday, January 27, 2012 @ 03:01 PM gHale

Six coal-fired power plants in Ohio, Pennsylvania and Maryland will shut down, FirstEnergy Corp. said.

The plants in Cleveland, Ashtabula, Oregon and Eastlake in Ohio, Adrian, PA., and Williamsport, MD., will retire by Sept. 1. They have generated about 10 percent of the electricity produced by FirstEnergy over the last three years, the company said.

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A review of the company’s coal-fired plants determined it would not be cost-effective to get the older ones into compliance with environmental regulations the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced in December, said James Lash, head of the company’s generation unit.

The new standards should reduce emissions of mercury and other toxic pollution from coal- and oil-fired power plants. As a result of those standards, the end result is most likely result in the mothballing of dozens of units in the Midwest and in the coal belt — Kentucky, West Virginia and Virginia.

The Obama administration was under court order to issue a new rule, after a court threw out an attempt by the Bush administration to exempt power plants from controls for toxic air pollution.

Two factors have made it easier for utilities to shut old coal plants. Power demand has been weakening because of the slow economy and energy efficiency programs. And natural gas prices, which have fallen to decade-low levels in recent weeks, have allowed utilities to switch from coal to natural gas without having an impact on customer bills. On top of all that, demand from China and elsewhere has driven up the price of coal.

FirstEnergy said its decision would directly affect 529 employees. Some of them could end up transferring to other FirstEnergy facilities and work sites, while others could take advantage of a retirement benefit offered to employees 55 years and older, the company said.

FirstEnergy has 17 coal power plants, including those that will close by September.

The plants targeted to shut down have been producing less power over the last few years, mainly during times of peak demand, the company said.

FirstEnergy’s electric system has 6 million customers in Ohio, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, West Virginia, Maryland and Virginia. Coal and nuclear power plants generate about 80 percent of the company’s output. The company employs about 17,000 people.

The new EPA rules include setting standards for mercury and other toxic pollutants that billow out of smokestacks and reducing air pollution in states downwind from the power plants.

FirstEnergy has taken steps at several of its coal-burning plants to make them cleaner for the environment. It said that once the closings are complete, nearly all of its power will come from low emission sources.

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