Mitchell Power Station slated to close
As President Barack Obama walked through congressional chambers after presenting his 2011 State of the Union address, U.S. Rep. Tim Murphy shook his hand.
During that speech, President Obama called for investments in “biomedical research, information technology and, especially, clean energy technology.”
During that handshake, the Upper St. Clair Republican thanked the president for supporting clean coal.
The message was in sharp contrast to the circumstances that led to the announcement by FirstEnergy on Tuesday that it was closing two coal-fueled electric power plants, including the Mitchell Power Station at Courtney – located in Murphy's district.
“This doesn't support clean coal – closing them instead of cleaning them up,” Murphy said Tuesday.
The move to deactivate – by Oct. 9 – the coal-fired Hatfield's Ferry Power Station in Masontown and the Mitchell Power Station will cost 380 jobs, including 70 at the local plant.
This is the second time in less than two years that the Akron-based company has decided to close coal-fired plants rather than retrofit them to meet tougher emissions standards.
The company decided last year to shutter nine of its coal-fired power plants, including Armstrong Power Station in Adrian, Armstrong County.
FirstEnergy said that it would cost $275 million to bring the local plants in line with new federal air quality rules.
FirstEnergy cited the Environmental Protection Agency's Mercury and Air Toxics Standards as the reason behind the closings.
Murphy said he learned of the decision Tuesday morning at about the same time as workers at the plants received the news.
“The news is just devastating,” Murphy said.
“When you look at the families affected; people have mortgages, student loans, grocery bills, and then to pull this out from under them.
“The EPA made good on its promise to not look at the jobs impact of regulations, and that is a serious concern for communities.”
Murphy said the EPA is punishing FirstEnergy, despite the company's roughly $1 billion in plant investments to meet new regulations.
“There is no incentive for coal-fed power plants to clean up,” Murphy said.
The Mitchell and Hatfield's power plants generate a combined 2,080 megawatts, a tenth of the company's total capacity.
The $275 million upgrade estimate would represent nearly 30 percent of what it would cost FirstEnergy to bring all of its plants in line.
One megawatt is enough to power 800 homes.
Murphy said a study by National Economic Research Associates estimated that a median family will pay $400 more annually for electricity because of federal regulations.
During hearings before the Energy and Commerce Committee, of which Murphy is a member, he once pointed out that electric-run cars are powered by power from coal-fed utility plants.
“We all want clean air and water, but you can't do that by poking the eye of scientists and engineers who want to do that,” Murphy said. “The administration's only answer is this: When the issue is c-o-a-l, their answer is no.”
Murphy said the EPA and Obama administration are acting completely independent of congress.
“This is another example of the continuing erosion of congressional authority,” Murphy said. “More and more decisions are being turned over to faceless bureaucrats.”
On Tuesday, House Energy and Commerce Committee leaders wrote to EPA Acting Administrator Bob Perciasepe requesting information about the methodology used by the agency to estimate the cost impacts of its rules.
Setting a July 24 deadline to respond, the committee members said they are concerned that the EPA's economic analyses neglect economywide impacts and lack full consideration of proposed rules' effect on jobs.
State Rep. Rick Saccone, R-Elizabeth Township, laid blame on the EPA for the planned closures.
“Our nation's activist EPA has once again hurt our workers and our local economy,” said Saccone, whose 58th District includes the community where the Mitchell plant is located.
“Some 70 good-paying union jobs will be lost as a result of actions taken by the radical environmentalists who are running an agency of government. I have met many of those employees who will be losing their jobs. I know firsthand of their devotion.
“This is another skirmish with the current administration and its ‘War on Coal.' We have got to fight harder for the people.
Saccone said many of the people losing their jobs “have spent years devoted to supplying us with electricity (and) will now be put out on the street.”
“This is unnecessary and unacceptable,” Saccone said. We must create sound environmental policy that puts people first and reins in bureaucratic government agencies that are ideologically driven and out of control.”
State Sen. Timothy Solobay, D-Canonsburg, issued a statement critical of the EPA.
“The federal government is costing real people real jobs by pushing ahead with theoretical power-plant standards,” Solobay said. “Forcing the closure of reliable power plants will drive up the price of electricity for consumers and do little to improve the environment.”
FirstEnergy still plans to invest $650 million to update the rest of its system, it said in the news release announcing the decision. After deactivation at Mitchell and Hatfield's, a little more than half of its system will be coal-fired plants, with a mix of nuclear, hydroelectric, and gas and oil making up the rest, it said.
Company officials said in October that they would be studying whether partially upgrading Hatfield's Ferry make sense.
If it would, they would have also studied it at Mitchell and several other plants in West Virginia and Pennsylvania, including Bruce Mansfield in Shippingport, the largest power plant in the state.
One of FirstEnergy's competitors, NRG, announced two weeks ago that it would convert a 330-megawatt plant in West Pittsburgh, in service since 1952. Initially NRG was going to deactivate it in April 2015.
Utilities in the past three years have begun converting or have announced plans to convert 35 coal-fired power plants in the United States, Steve Piper, associate director of energy fundamentals for SNL Energy in Boulder, Colo., said after that announcement.
Chris Buckley is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-684-2642 or firstname.lastname@example.org.