A New Day for Hatfield’s Ferry?

Washington PA Observer-Reporter
17 January 2016

The Hatfield’s Ferry power plant in Greene County’s Monongahela Township closed a little more than two years ago. Since that time, nothing has been said about the plant’s possible fate.

One could only wonder at the time it locked its doors whether one day it again would be used to generate electrical power. Or, perhaps, it would provide a home for another business or industry. Or it would simply face the wrecking ball, with the land it now occupies becoming vacant.

With that thought in mind, we were glad to hear last week FirstEnergy Corp., the plant’s owner, is at least considering the possibility of restarting the plant.

A FirstEnergy spokeswoman said the company is conducting a study to determine whether it would be feasible for the plant to be reborn as a coal-burning facility, as it was before it closed, or that it could get a new start by burning a combination of coal and natural gas, or burning only natural gas.

The company asked PJM Interconnection, which operates the region’s electrical grid, to preserve its rights to offer power to the grid produced at Hatfield’s Ferry through mid-2019. This would give FirstEnergy time to evaluate its options.

The company closed the 1,710-megawatt coal-fired plant in October 2013, citing a weak demand for electricity, low electricity prices and the costs of bringing it, and other coal-fired plants, into compliance with environmental regulations.

Since that time, the spokeswoman said, the company has observed positive movement in market and capacity conditions, though not enough yet to warrant reopening a closed plant such as Hatfield’s Ferry.

It was difficult for Greene County to see the plant close, not only for the loss of the 174 jobs, but also for its portents about the future of coal, one of Greene’s most important industries.

On top of that, FirstEnergy’s predecessor, Allegheny Energy, had only four years earlier spent more than $650 million to install scrubbers at the plant to reduce sulfur dioxide emissions. Many hoped and believed the scrubbers would add many more years of life to the plant.

In announcing the plant’s closing, FirstEnergy noted much more would have to be spent to bring the plant into compliance with new and proposed environmental regulations that are more stringent. It also said it had considered retrofitting the plant to burn both natural gas and coal but that, too, was cost prohibitive. It is interesting to note that Allegheny Power many years earlier had proposed burning a mixture of coal and natural gas at Hatfield’s Ferry. The sole reason it gave then was to reduce emissions.

While it’s true the 147-acre plant site could be reused by other industries, we believe, as it now stands, it is simply ideal for a power plant. The property has access to the river and barge transportation, has the water needed for power plant processes thanks to its proximity to the river, a direct link to the electric grid and good access to a state highway. It also is our hope that, if the plant is revived, that it looks toward the future of energy and burns a combination of coal and natural gas, or goes entirely toward natural gas, which burns more cleanly than coal.

We’re sure FirstEnergy will have to consider many more factors than these in deciding what to do with the plant, and hope if another power plant is not the final choice for the property, the company will at least work with local officials in finding another use for it.