That headline should read “Obama pulling plug on coal plants.”
The Chicago Tribune reports,
An Ohio-based utility announced Thursday that it is shutting three Lake Erie coal plants and all but one unit at another, a move that will scrap some of the biggest fish killers along the Great Lakes.
Like other power companies that rely on coal, FirstEnergy Corp. is facing more stringent pollution limits and competition from suddenly abundant and relatively cheap natural gas. The company decided it wasn’t worth upgrading the Ohio plants, and others in Pennsylvania and Maryland, to comply with new air and water standards.
The announcement reflects a fast-changing climate for electricity generation and promises cleaner air in the Midwest and Northeast. Nationwide, utilities have mothballed more than 200 coal-fired units during the past three years, most of which were built in the middle of the previous century and until recently were largely exempt from the toughest provisions of the federal Clean Air Act.
Closing the Lake Erie plants also could benefit commercial and sport fishing. By sucking up massive amounts of water to cool its equipment, the Bay Shore plant near Toledo, Ohio, killed 46 million adult fish and more than 2.4 billion eggs, larvae and young fish every year in the region’s most prolific spawning grounds, according to reports submitted to Ohio regulators.
FirstEnergy is closing three coal-fired units at Bay Shore by September but will keep operating a smaller unit that burns petroleum waste from a nearby BP refinery. As a result, the plant’s daily water withdrawals are expected to drop by more than 80 percent.
“At a time when the lake is challenged by algae blooms and declining fish populations, this is a huge step in the right direction,” said Sandy Bihn, Lake Erie representative for Waterkeeper, an environmental group that pressured FirstEnergy to reduce its water withdrawals.
All the coal units will be shut at five other plants: Ashtabula, Eastlake and Lake Shore in Ohio, Armstrong in Pennsylvania and R. Paul Smith in Maryland. Combined, the plants generated about 10 percent of the company’s electricity and generally operated only during peak summer demand.
In a statement, James Lash, head of FirstEnergy’s generation unit, said the cost of installing new pollution controls “would make these older plants even less likely to be (used) under market rules.”
Under a court order, the Obama administration has cracked down on lung- and heart-damaging air pollution from power plants fired by coal and oil. Courts also have demanded sharp reductions in emissions of mercury and other toxic metals, as well as steps to curb fish kills from water withdrawals.
FirstEnergy said its decision will affect 529 workers. Some could transfer to other plants and others will be offered early retirement, the company said.