FirstEnergy to Deactivate 2 Area Power Plants
Washington PA Observer Reporter
9 July 2013
By Bob Niedbala, Staff Writer
FirstEnergy Corp. announced Tuesday it plans to deactivate two
coal-fired power plants in Washington and Greene counties because
of the high cost of bringing them into compliance with
Environmental Protection Agency standards.
Mitchell Power Station in Union Township, Washington County, and
Hatfield’s Ferry Power Station near Carmichaels, Greene County,
are scheduled to close Oct. 9, resulting in the layoffs of 380
employees – 174 at Hatfield’s Ferry, 77 at Mitchell and the
remainder in generation-related and support positions.
Eligible employees will get severance packages totaling about $16
“The closures are based on the cost of compliance with current and
future environmental regulations as well as the low market price
for electricity,” said Stephanie Thornton, spokeswoman for
FirstEnergy, the Akron, Ohio-based parent of West Penn Power.
She cited the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards, which have already
been implemented and limit mercury emissions, as well as
regulations expected in the next couple of years. Thornton added
that prices for electricity have remained low the past few years,
and are projected to remain low for the next three years.
The cost for FirstEnergy to comply with the MATS regulations is
estimated at $925 million, Thornton said. About 30 percent of
those costs, or $278 million, would be required to bring
Hatfield’s Ferry and Mitchell into compliance, she said.
The cost of upgrading older, coal-fired plants is high. Mitchell
was built in 1949 and Hatfield’s Ferry, in Monongahela Township,
opened in 1969. They have a total capacity of 2,080 megawatts, a
formidable 10 percent of the company’s generating capacity.
PJM Interconnection, the transmission operator that controls the
areas where Hatsfield’s Ferry and Mitchell exist, will review the
shutdowns for any reliability impacts.
Larry Spahr hopes that his town, and the immediate vicinity, will
remain economically viable. He is a supervisor in Union Township,
which will lose tax revenues as the host community of the Mitchell
But he is more concerned about the loss of jobs.
“It’s their livelihood,” Spahr said. ”Many of the employees down
there are from Monongahela, New Eagle and Charleroi.”
Bob Whalen, president of Utility Workers Union of America Local
102, could not be reached for comment.
Political response was swift and angry Tuesday.
“This is devastating for our region. That’s 380 people who will be
without jobs, 380 families that are going to be impacted by this,”
said state Rep. Pam Snyder, D-Jefferson Township.
The closings, she said, could have a “domino effect,” particularly
in an area such as Greene County, where coal is integral to the
Snyder said she had sent emails to coal operators in the area
Tuesday morning in an attempt to gauge the impact of the closing
on their operations.
“We are the heart of the coal industry and I’m very concerned
about how this is going to impact our local coal mines and coal
mining jobs … the long-term repercussions are still unknown,” she
Snyder said it will be her top priority to make sure programs are
available to assist the displaced employees and to ensure the
closings do not have an impact on the reliability of the
U.S. Rep. Tim Murphy, chairman of the House Oversight and
Investigations Subcommittee, lamented the deactivations while
criticizing the Obama administration.
“This is devastating for those families who had good jobs and for
the communities they live in,” Murphy, R-Upper St. Clair, said in
a telephone interview Tuesday.
“What this also is is this administration saying it is going to
ignore any efforts by power companies to invest in cleaner plants
and, in fact, punishing power plants for investing huge amounts in
“I spoke to the president and he said he prefers clean coal. But
(with this announcement), it’s clear that’s not the way it is.”
The closing of Hatfield’s Ferry will come just 3 1/2 years after
FirstEnergy’s predecessor, Allegheny Power, invested $650 million
in the plant to install scrubbers to remove sulfur dioxide and
mercury from the emissions. The scrubbers came online in late
The scrubbers, however, will not do enough to help the plant meet
new emission standards, Thornton said, “It would still need
additional investment to comply with regulations.”
Mitchell does not have scrubbers.
Republican U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey was as hot as Murphy over the
closure announcement. He said in a news release: “These unemployed
Pennsylvanians are unfortunate casualties in the president’s ‘War
on Coal,’ which I will continue to fight against in the Senate …
coal-fired plants also have gone to impressive lengths to reduce
emissions. Nevertheless, the Obama administration continues to
implement policies that will make energy more expensive.”
State Rep. Rick Saccone, R-Elizabeth, blistered the EPA over what
he considers to be its overregulation of coal, while also
criticizing the administration.
“Our nation’s activist EPA has once again hurt our workers and our
local economy,” he said. “This is another skirmish with the
current administration and its ‘War on Coal.’”
State Sen. Tim Solobay, D-Canonsburg, said in another news release
that “the federal government is costing real people real jobs by
pushing ahead with theoretical power-plant standards. Forcing the
closure of reliable power plants will drive up the price of
electricity for consumers and do little to improve the
The Sierra Club has a different view.
“This is good news for communities in Southwestern Pennsylvania
who will benefit from healthier air and cleaner water,” Tom
Schuster, Pennsylvania campaign representative for the
environmental organization, said in a release.
Randy Francisco, the club’s organizing representative in Western
Pennsylvania, said: “These plants are both over 40 years old and
have been making people sick for too long. Retiring the Mitchell
plant and ceasing to dump dangerous coal ash in unlined pits will
mean the Monongahela River can continue on its path to a vibrant
recovery and families will have safer water to drink.”
Patrick Grenter, head of an environmental watchdog group, was not
surprised by the planned plant closures.
“I think (they) basically reflect the change in the view of the
reality of coal. It’s truly a fuel of the past,” said Grenter,
executive director of the Center for Coalfield Justice, a downtown
Washington organization that addresses environmental issues
related to fossil fuel extraction.
Grenter said he can appreciate the high cost of operating an
environmentally efficient coal-fired plant, but that doing so is
“Those are the costs of preventing people from getting sick, from
dying, from streams and air being polluted. Finally, steps are
being taken to make companies internalize instead of externalize
“As this happens, we’re seeing that coal is not economically
Staff writer Scott Beveridge contributed to this report.