Reliability Issues Could Stay Plant Closures

Washington PA Observer Reporter
13 August 2013
By Tara Kinsell, Staff Writer

A temporary stay in the closure of the Hatfield’s Ferry Power Plant in Greene County and the Mitchell Power Plant in Washington County could take place if an agreement can be reached between First Energy, Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and PJM Interconnection, the Mid-Atlantic electricity grid manager. In total, about 380 plant employees and generation related positions are expected to be affected by the closures.

PJM recently conducted a reliability analysis to determine if closing the two plants could be done without affecting customers in the Mid-Atlantic electricity grid. The results of that analysis were released Tuesday.

In a statement by First Energy released in July, the company said, “The plant deactivations are subject to review for reliability impacts, if any, by PJM Interconnection, the regional transmission operator that controls the area where they are located.” This could indicate that the company does plan to work with PJM to address such reliability issues.

Ray Dotter, spokesman for PJM, said the company found that potential impacts and upgrades to address those impacts are not expected to be completed prior to the proposed Oct. 9 closing date.

Dotter said a letter went out to First Energy last week alerting it to the potential of such impacts by closing the plants at that time.

He added that PJM continues to work with affected owners of transmission companies that use power supplied by these two plants in identifying the necessary upgrades, expected completion dates, and temporary operating solutions to mitigate reliability impacts to the grid.

“PJM has no authority to require plants to continue to operate. We identify the problems with the transmission system,” Dotter said. PJM then alerts the company and looks at reaching a short-term agreement with the owners to keep the plant operating. Dotter said that ranges typically from months to a couple of years.

“We are not talking anything like five to 10 years,” he said.

However, there could be a cost to continue keeping the plant open and if that exists, First Energy would be compensated under federal regulations, according to Dotter.
“Oftentimes, this can be more expensive than implementing alternative sources of power,” he added.

Dotter said electricity consumers should not be concerned that they will be left in the dark. “It doesn’t mean if the plant closes an hour later the lights go off,” he said. “Problems could develop so there needs to be another solution in place. We can’t wait until the problem develops.”

He equated it to having bad brakes on an automobile. “You don’t wait until the brakes stop working to fix the problem,” he said.

Dotter said meeting deadlines for environmental regulations is just a part of why some plants are closing in Pennsylvania.

“Even without that, there would be a challenge from natural gas because it is so inexpensive compared to what it used to be. You have a situation in Pennsylvania where you have natural gas fields on one side and the coal on the other,” he said. “It used to be coal, hydro and nuclear energy that were the cheapest. Now you have wind and natural gas that are more competitive. We’re fuel neutral at PJM. We legally have to be. It is a matter of the price they are offering. We take the lowest price.”

PJM Interconnection is responsible for coordinating the movement of electricity in all or parts of 13 states and the District of Columbia. It ensures that there is enough electricity to supply electricity to more than 61 million people in its territory.

“FirstEnergy’s profit-driven planning, which comes at the expense of Pennsylvania’s families, is the direct cause of these issues,” said Tom Schuster, Pennsylvania Campaign Representative for the Sierra Club.

“FirstEnergy failed to engage in meaningful planning with the workers and communities affected by their announcement and acted irresponsibly by failing to consider cost-effective solutions like wind, solar, efficiency, energy management and transmission upgrades.”

First Energy was in compliance with federal regulations by announcing its intention to close the plants with a 90-day notice.