FirstEnergy Considering Gas Co-Firing for PA Coal Plants

Pittsburgh Business Times
5 October 2012
By Anya Litvak, Reporter

FirstEnergy Corp. is considering burning natural gas along with coal at five of its power plants, including three in Pennsylvania.

The decision, which would require installing new boilers capable of duel-fuel firing, is still years in the future and will depend on many factors, such as proximity to a natural gas pipeline, the price of gas, the cost of equipment upgrades and more, according to FirstEnergy spokesman Mark Durbin.

The first decision would likely be made in 2014 and would determine the fate of Hatfield’s Ferry, a three-boiler plant in Masontown, Fayette County, with a capacity of 1,710 megawatts.

The other four plants under consideration for gas co-firing are:

    Bruce Mansfield Plant in Shippingport - 2,490 megawatts
    Mitchell Power Station in Courtney - 370 MW
    Pleasants Power Station in Willow Island, W.Va. - 1,300 MW
    Harrison Power Station in Haywood, W.Va. - 1,983 MW

Hatfield’s Ferry has one big advantage in favor of gas — it’s near a major natural gas pipeline, the Texas Eastern Transmission line that runs across the bottom of the state. That’s why FirstEnergy has zeroed in on the Masontown plant ahead of others, Durbin said, since the company estimates that each mile of pipeline would cost between $2 million and $5 millon to construct.

That and the fact that Hatfield’s boilers need to be replaced in the coming years anyway, so it’s natural to consider whether a dual-fuel boiler would make sense in the context of the prolific Marcellus and Utica shales underneath. Also, the price of gas must continue to stay low if the project is thought to be viable.

Durbin said it’s unlikely that FirstEnergy would go through with co-firing if natural gas prices slip out of their current under $3 valley. That would make gas uncompetitive with the price of coal, he said.

“We would just need to have a pretty good projection into what it’s going to do,” he said of the price of natural gas. As a note of caution, Durbin thought back to the 1970s when powerplants in the Northeast switched to natural gas for environmental reasons, which created a shortage of gas for heating and drove up its price.

Once that happened, “it didn’t make sense to use it anymore,” he said.

If FirstEnergy says go on to co-firing at Hatfield’s, it would install three $20 million boilers capable of burning a fuel mix with 25 percent to 40 percent natural gas.

Anya Litvak covers energy, transportation, gaming, engineering and construction. Contact her at or (412) 208-3824.