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Ohio Utica Shale

FirstEnergy scraps plan to switch Pa. plant from coal to natural gas

By Bob Downing Published: July 9, 2013

From my co-worker Betty Lin-Fisher, who covers Akron-based FirstEnergy Corp.:

By Betty Lin-Fisher

Beacon Journal business writer

FirstEnergy Corp. announced today it is deactivating two of its coal-fired power plants in Pennsylvania, blaming the costs of complying with current and future environmental regulations and low electric prices.

The Hatfield Ferry Power Station in Masontown, Pa. — one of the company’s largest coal plants — and the Mitchell Power Station in Courtney, Pa., will stop operations by Oct. 9, the Akron-based utility said.

There will be 380 employees affected and they will receive severance benefits, the company said. Some workers’ benefits are covered by a collective bargaining agreement.

Officials with the Utility Workers Union of America Local 102 were not immediately available for comment.

FirstEnergy spokesman Todd Schneider said there could be limited "bumping" opportunities within the union’s contract, but that 380 positions would be eliminated.

"While the deactivations are difficult steps to take, they are part of our ongoing efforts to meet economic challenges head-on while continuing to position the company for long-term growth and success," he said.

Both plants are in southwest Pennsylvania in the territory of Allegheny Energy, which was purchased by FirstEnergy in 2011.

The company said the total capacity of the plants is 2,080 megawatts, representing about 10 percent of its overall generating ability. Measured another way, the company said that plants represent about 30 percent of an estimated $925 million cost to comply with the Environmental Protection Agency’s Mercury and Air Toxics Standards.

Last fall, the Hatfield plant was under study for retrofitting to burn natural gas in addition to coal. It would have cost about $20 million for each of the plant’s three boilers, or $60 million total. The company had said no final decision was made and the plan could be scrapped if natural gas prices rise too high.

Schneider said Tuesday, "We’re not going to move forward with that process."

The company’s overall production breakdown after the closings will be comprised of 56 percent coal, 22 percent nuclear, 13 percent called renewables and 9 percent gas/oil. It will have a generating capacity of more than 18,000 megawatts.

FirstEnergy said with the shutdown of the two plants, in addition to nine plants the company announced for deactivation last year, nearly 100 percent of the power generated by FirstEnergy will come from resources that are either non-or low-emitting, including nuclear, hydro, pumped-storage hydro, natural gas and scrubbed coal units.

Plants that were previously shut were:

Ohio: Bay Shore Plant units 2-4 (Toledo area); Eastlake units 4 and 5. Pennsylvania: Armstrong Power Station (Adrian). Maryland: R. Paul Smith Plant (Williamsport). West Virginia: Albright, Rivesville, Willow Island.

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