AEP Will Close Ohio Coal Plant Early

American Electric Power (AEP) this week confirmed it will close its coal-fired Conesville Power Plant in Ohio earlier than originally planned. An AEP spokesperson in an email to media confirmed the plant’s workers were told October 5 that the plant will close by May 31, 2020.

AEP said Units 5 and 6 at the plant, which were originally scheduled to shut down in 2022, will likely close in May 2019. Unit 4 is scheduled to close in May 2020. Those three units began commercial operation between 1973 and 1978.

The first unit at the plant began operating in Coshocton County in 1957, with Unit 2 starting up in 1959, and Unit 3 in 1962. The plant celebrated its 60th anniversary last year. Those three units were decommissioned between 2005 and 2012.

The company said the decision to close the remaining units earlier than planned was made after the plant did not clear the PJM market capacity auction for 2021 to 2022, and only partly cleared the auction for 2020 to 2021. PJM’s capacity market, called the Reliability Pricing Model, “ensures long-term grid reliability by securing the appropriate amount of power supply resources needed to meet predicted energy demand in the future,” according to PJM.

AEP also said costs to keep the plants operating over the next few years figured in the decision. AEP in recent years has been exiting the competitive generation business in Ohio, as the company has shifted its focus to regulated businesses and investment in infrastructure and energy innovations. AEP for several years has sought a buyer for the Conesville plant but has been unsuccessful.

The plant is a major customer of Colorado-based Westmoreland Coal, which filed for bankruptcy protection on October 9.

The Conesville plant had about 600 workers at its height. Company spokesperson Melissa McHenry in her email said the plant today has 165 employees.

The plant in October 2017 was devalued by the Ohio Department of Taxation, which dropped valuation from $72.2 million to $34.7 million. The department said coal-fired plants are not as valuable in the energy market as natural gas facilities. The drop meant local groups that receive tax funding received about $2 million less in revenue.

Ohio has been transitioning away from coal-fired plants in recent years, with a number of plants closing or being converted to burn natural gas. New natural gas-fired plants also are being built in the state, in part due to the available supply of natural gas in the nearby Marcellus and Utica shale plays. The state also expected to lose two nuclear power plants.

Darrell Proctor is a POWER associate editor (@DarrellProctor1, @POWERmagazine).