Bob Downing

American Electric Power will stop burning coal at three power plants, including one in Ohio, under a revised federal clean-air agreement unveiled Monday.

The Columbus-based utility must retire or refuel Unit No. 5 at the Muskingum River Power Plant at Beverly in Washington County by 2015.

Also being closed or refueled by that time will be Tanners Creek Generating Station No. 4 in Lawrenceburg, Ind., and the iconic Big Sandy Power Station No. 2 in Louisa, Ky., is to be retired.

Big Sandy has become a national symbol for troubled power plants that burn coal.

“AEP is pleased to have reached an agreement with all parties that modifies its … consent decree in a way that provides environmental improvements at several AEP plants at a lower cost for our customers,” said company spokeswoman Melissa McHenry.

The closures would reduce AEP’s emissions by 84,000 tons of sulphur dioxide per year plus 12 million tons of carbon dioxide, a key global warming gas, the parties announced.

Also as part of the agreement, AEP will cut air emissions at 16 other coal-fired power plants in five states, including Ohio, even more starting in 2016; will pay $8.5 million for clean-air programs in the states named in the lawsuit; and will develop 200 megawatts of wind or solar power by 2015.

The 30-page agreement revealed Monday revises an agreement from 2007. The original federal lawsuit dates back to 1999.

The 2007 agreement required AEP — one of the nation’s largest power companies with 5 million customers in 11 states — to spend $5 billion to cut sulfur dioxide emissions from its coal-fired plants from 828,000 tons a year to 174,000 tons a year over 12 years.

Parties in the suit include the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, eight East Coast states and 13 eco-groups including Ohio Citizen Action and the League of Ohio Sportsmen.

Positive response

Environmentalists were thrilled with the agreement.

The three coal-fired plants are “dirty and outdated plants that should have been cleaned up or retired decades ago,” said Shannon Fisk, an attorney for the Sierra Club. “We’re glad AEP is going to retire these aging dinosaurs.”

New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman said, “Coal-fired power plants make the largest contribution to air pollution in New York’s skies. Continuing to cut pollution is critical to protecting New Yorkers’ health and the environment.”

Under the agreement, AEP also will install a new anti-pollution system at its Rockport coal-fired plant in southern Indiana.

The previous agreement mandated that the company install a more expensive technology that would cut more pollution. The states and eco-groups agreed to the change on the condition AEP install the equipment sooner and commit to the other plant retirements and clean-energy investments.

AEP is required either to retire the two Rockport units in 2025 and 2028, respectively, or install additional controls designed to remove at least 98 percent of the sulfur dioxide from the plant.

The impetus for changing the consent decree came because AEP wanted to change the required anti-pollution equipment at the Rockport plant.

Power generation

The three plants AEP is closing together are capable of producing 2,011 megawatts of electricity. A kilowatt is enough electricity to power 600 to 1,000 houses.

Unit No. 5 at Muskingum River was built in 1968 and can produce 585 kilowatts of electricity. It employs 105 workers.

The four other units at that plant were built from 1953 to 1958. The company had said Units 1-4 would be closed in 2014 and Unit 5 might be switched to natural gas.

AEPs three closures will bring to 142 the number of coal-burning power plants to retire or announce their retirement since 2010. Together the closing plants produce more than 50,000 megawatts of power.

The amended settlement was filed in U.S. District Court in Columbus.

Under the federal Clean Air Act, the amended consent decree is subject to a 30-day public comment period after the notice is published in the Federal Register. Following the comment period, the parties intend to seek court approval of the amended consent decree.

The states involved in the suit are New York, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Maryland, New Hampshire, New Jersey, Rhode Island and Vermont.

The eco-groups involved are the Sierra Club, the Natural Resources Defense Council, Earthjustice, the Environmental Law and Policy Center, the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition, the West Virginia Environmental Council, the Clean Air Council. Environment America, the National Wildlife Federation, the Izaak Walton League and the Indiana Wildlife Federation.

Bob Downing can be reached at 330-996-3745 or bdowning@thebeaconjournal.com.