Coal / FirstEnergy

What’s the problem with FirstEnergy’s dirty old Lake Erie coal plants?

Lake Shore coal plant

Our nation is in the midst of a transition away from dependence on coal-fired electricity. Markets are shifting as coal is replaced by natural gas, as the country moves away from the deplorable practice of mountaintop removal coal mining, as states adopt standards for energy efficiency and renewable energy, and as the “endless supply” of coal seems to be much less than previously thought. Ohio can play a pivotal role in accelerating the shift away from our dirtiest form of energy. Ohio has more installed coal-fired generating capacity than any state in the nation, including 18 plants that have over 200 megawatt capacity. While some of the plants have upgraded their pollution controls, many have not. FirstEnergy’s Lake Erie coal plant fleet – Bay Shore in Toledo, Lakeshore in Cleveland, Eastlake in Eastlake, and Ashtabula in Ashtabula – are all older coal plants that do not have current pollution controls, such as scrubbers. They should be replaced by cleaner energy sources.

FirstEnergy Lake Erie Coal Plants Air Pollution Emissions, 2009

(All numbers in pounds)

Name of coal plant Sulfur dioxide Nitrogen oxides Total air emissions*
Ashtabula 9,613,000 1,982,600 12,128,217
Bay Shore 15,755,000 7,392,200 24,280,384
Eastlake 97,339,000 14,110,200 115,450,403
Lakeshore 2,142,400 841,200 3,130,783
Total 124,849,400 24,326,200 154,989,787
96% of all air emissions at these four plants are sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides.
*Total air emissions includes all air emissions from all reports submitted on the four plants.
Source: FirstEnergy

The average age of the 11 units at these four coal plants is 50 years. The two oldest units are both at the Eastlake plant, the dirtiest of the four plants, and went on line in 1953. The newest unit of these four plants is also at Eastlake and went on line in 1973. The Ashtabula and Lake Shore plants each have one unit. There are six units at Eastlake and three coal units at Bay Shore. The Lake Shore coal plant is along the Shoreway in Cleveland, Ohio, about 4 miles east of downtown. Ashtabula coal plant is located in Ashtabula, Ohio, about 60 miles east of downtown Cleveland. Eastlake coal plant is located in Eastlake, Ohio, about 20 miles east of downtown Cleveland. Bay Shore coal plant is located on the Maumee River and Maumee Bay in Oregon, Ohio, near Toledo. All four plants are located on Lake Erie.

Eastlake coal plant

Coal-fired plants make people sick

Coal pollution affects all major body organ systems and contributes to four of the five leading causes of death in the United States: heart disease, cancer, stroke and chronic lower respiratory diseases, according to Physicians for Social Responsibility. Ohio ranks first in the nation in toxic air pollution with coal-fired power plants as the major contributor. Ohio ranks second in the nation in deaths from coal plants, which shorten the life of 1,221 people each year. Sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide make up 96% of emissions at all four of FirstEnergy’s Lake Erie coal plants, causing acid rain and polluting Lake Erie, which provides drinking water for 11 million people.

The market is shifting away from coal

Ashtabula coal plant

We are already in the midst of a transition away from coal in the U.S. The overall demand for electricity in Ohio is likely to remain flat, and energy efficiency is most cost-effective method to deal with demand. Alternatives and renewables are being developed in Ohio right now. Natural gas prices are low and expected to remain there for many

years. The utility industry has begun identifying coal plants that they consider “vulnerable”- those coal plants that are smaller, older and cannot meet future regulatory upgrades, and the medium-sized ones that may or may not be able to meet the coming regulatory upgrades but doing so would not be economically feasible in this climate. FirstEnergy has plans to idle, to some extent, all four of their Lake Erie coal plants, which they announced in August, 2010. The economic part of the decision to retrofit or replace a coal plant is major: technical experts have estimated that a 500 MW plant, if it needed all of the possible future regulatory controls, may spend $392.5 million at just one plant ($785/kw.)

Future regulations would make it very expensive – for the ratepayers – to operate these dirty old coal plants

Possible future federal regulations may make old coal plants too expensive to operate. It is most likely that any additional costs to maintain and upgrade these old coal plants would be passed along directly to ratepayers. There are four regulatory proposals that both industry and citizen groups believe could affect the operations at old coal plants, depending upon what is adopted and enforced:

Coal ash regulations.

The USEPA proposed two competing coal ash regulations. One, favored by citizen and citizen groups would regulate coal ash as a hazardous waste and provide stringent, enforceable rules for coal ash. The other, favored by industry, would not classify coal ash as a hazardous waste and would not provide enforceable standards. Eight public hearings were held in the fall of 2010, and the EPA received over 400,000 comments about the proposed coal ash regulations. The EPA is in the decision-making part of the process now. Congress, meanwhile, is attempting to not allow funding for the strongest of the two proposed regulations on coal ash.

Clean Air Transport Rule.

This proposal would require significant reductions in sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides emissions that cross state lines. These pollutants react in the atmosphere to form fine particles and ground-level ozone and are transported long distances, affecting the health of people inside and outside of Ohio. The Clean Air Transport Rule could be issued in draft form early this year.

Maximum Achievable Control Technology (MACT) rules for mercury at fossil fuel power plants.

This would limit mercury emissions from coal plants. An EPA draft of the regulation is planned for March 16, 2011 and the final could be issued before the end of the year. Experts estimate that if a medium-sized 500-megawatt plant needed all of the future pollution controls it could cost an estimated $785 per kilowatt. This could cost ratepayers almost $2 billion to upgrade just these four plants. The Ashtabula and Lake Shore coal plants are 256 megawatts each, the Bay Shore coal plant is 640 megawatts and the Eastlake coal plant is 1289 megawatts. It could take an estimated $200 million each to upgrade FirstEnergy’s Ashtabula and Lake Shore plants, half a billion dollars to upgrade the Bayshore plant and over a billion dollars to upgrade the Eastlake plant.

Bay Shore coal plant

FirstEnergy’s merger with Allegheny Energy provides an opportunity to move away from old coal plants

FirstEnergy completed its merger with southwestern Pennsylvania utility Allegheny Energy on February 25, 2011, making it the biggest power company in the nation, with more than 6 million customers. The merger, which will include control of Allegheny’s electric generating plants, may make this the key time for FirstEnergy to retire its older Lake Erie plants. In a February 27 Plain Dealer story, company spokesperson Ellen Raines said, “When you operate a larger number of power plants as a single fleet, you rely more on the power plants with environmental control and on plants that can run more efficiently.” FirstEnergy needs to hear that its customers want it to move away from relying on its outdated plants.