Akron’s FirstEnergy Corp. plans to keep running three coal-fired power plants that had been scheduled to close Sept. 1.
The plants — Eastlake, Lakeshore in Cleveland and Ashtabula — will remain open until April 2015 under FirstEnergy’s revised plan, company spokesman Mark Durbin said.
The plan involves three boilers at Eastlake and one each at the Lakeshore and Ashtabula plants. They would run at peaking periods when needed to generate electricity.
The plants will close in 2015 before new federal clean-air rules go into effect, he said.
The decision came after PJM Interconnection, manager of the high-voltage grid from Ohio to the East Coast, raised reliability concerns about FirstEnergy’s closure plans.
The Pennsylvania agency said FirstEnergy’s initial closure plan would cause major voltage inadequacies and equipment problems affecting the multistate regional grid.
Its analysis on closing the plants found “significant reliability concerns resulting from the deactivation of these generating units,” PJM said in an April 25 report.
It said more than 190 reliability violations would have been created if the plants were allowed to close.
Durbin said FirstEnergy is not yet sure how much extra it will cost to keep the three plants operating until 2015.
How much the utility can charge its customers to recoup its costs in cases where operations are mandated falls on the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, PJM spokesman Ray Dotter said.
PJM also has called for an estimated $700 million to $900 million in improvements to FirstEnergy’s high-voltage transmission system in the next three years that are needed because of the plant closures to assure electric reliability.
A total of 67 projects are required by PJM, including new transmission lines, substations and transformers for FirstEnergy.
That includes installing synchronous condensers at two remaining and largest boilers at the Eastlake plant. Such equipment generates reactive power needed by the grid and serves as voltage regulators to stabilize high-voltage lines. That work is scheduled to be completed by June 1, 2013, and Dec. 1, 2013.
The three smallest Eastlake boilers and the Lakeshore plant will get similar retrofits in 2015.
FirstEnergy will take “a layered approach” in dealing with so many improvements within the required time frames, Durbin said.
The utility can seek higher rates from its customers because the mandated work to the multistate grid is not regulated by Ohio. Federal regulators can approve such requests.
Durbin said FirstEnergy intends to proceed with closing the other plants on Sept. 1.
That includes the Bay Shore Plant, Boilers 2-4, in the Toledo suburb of Oregon. One boiler with anti-pollution equipment will remain open.
Also closing are two boilers at the Eastlake plant, the Armstrong Power Station (two boilers) in Adrian, Pa., and the R. Paul Smith Power Station (two boilers) in Williamsport, Md. The company is also closing three plants in West Virginia.
On Jan. 27, FirstEnergy announced plans to close six coal-fired power plants: four in Ohio, one in Pennsylvania and one in Maryland.
The Eastlake plant is still running while the five other plants had been mothballed but were available for winter/summer use when needed, the company said.
The average age of the six plants is 55 years, FirstEnergy said.
The six plants represent 12 percent of the utility’s generation capacity, officials said.
The decision affects 529 workers who will be eligible for severance benefits. The company said the number of affected workers might be less because some might be considered for other openings within the company and because of a new retirement benefit being offered to workers 55 and older.
About one-third of those 529 workers are eligible for retirement; meanwhile, the utility has about 100 openings in its fossil fuel division, officials said.
The main impetus for the closures of the old and dirty power plants is stricter federal anti-pollution rules on mercury, heavy metals and air toxics that were finalized in December.
The utilities have until 2015 to complete needed clean-air improvements.
FirstEnergy has 16 coal-fired power plants in Ohio, Pennsylvania, Maryland and West Virginia. Coal produces about 70 percent of the utility’s electricity.
PJM is the regional transmission organization that plans and operates transmission in the East Coast-Midwest region. It is based in Norristown, Pa., and operates a competitive wholesale electric market and manages the high-voltage electric grid that provides power to 58 million people.
The region covers all or parts of Ohio, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Virginia, West Virginia, Maryland, Delaware, the District of Columbia, North Carolina, Kentucky, Tennessee, Michigan, Indiana and Illinois.
Bob Downing can be reached at 330-996-3745 or firstname.lastname@example.org.