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FirstEnergy considers conversion of some power plants

| Saturday, Oct. 6, 2012, 12:01 a.m.

FirstEnergy Corp. may burn natural gas along with coal at some of its power plants in Pennsylvania and West Virginia, the company said on Friday.

Akron-based FirstEnergy is studying whether it makes economic sense to convert its Hatfield's Ferry plant to a natural gas co-fired setup to take advantage of the fuel's low cost, spokesman Mark Durbin said.

A natural gas co-fired plant burns up to 40 percent natural gas, Durbin said. The majority of the fuel to operate the plant would continue to be supplied by coal.

“It's located near a natural gas pipeline,” he said of the Hatfield's Ferry plant in Masontown, Fayette County.

“If you're using a large amount of natural gas you need to make sure you're close to a natural gas pipeline” because the cost of extending a pipeline can run as much as $2 million to $5 million a mile, he said.

If the study of Hatfield's Ferry makes sense, Durbin said the company will also conduct feasibility studies at two other coal-fired plants in Western Pennsylvania: Bruce Mansfield in Shippingport and Mitchell Power Station in Courtney.

It also could consider converting two West Virginia plants: Pleasants Power Station in Willow Island and Harrison Power Station in Haywood.

A decision to move forward on the conversion is not expected before 2014, Durbin said.

FirstEnergy is first exploring the idea at Hatfield's Ferry because the company was planning to replace the plant's three boilders, he said.

In addition to proximity to a natural gas pipeline, the price of natural gas is also a key consideration. If the price rises above about $3 per thousand cubic feet in the next several years, then it may not be worth investing the money in co-fired boilers.

The key question, Durbin said, is: “Will the Marcellus shale and Utica shale in essence continue to flood the market and cause an oversupply?”

Alex Nixon is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7928 or anixon@tribweb.com.

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