FirstEnergy Corp. plans to shutter two coal-fired power plants in Pennsylvania this fall—a total capacity of 2,080 MW—citing high costs of compliance with current and future environmental rules and a "continued low market price for electricity."

About 380 plant employees and generation-related positions will be affected if the two plants—the 1,710-MW Hatfield’s Ferry Power Station in Masontown, Pa., and the 370-MW Mitchell Power Station in Courtney, Pa.—are deactivated by October 9, 2013, FirstEnergy said on Tuesday. The plants represent about 10% of the company’s total generating capacity—but their continued operation would cost about 30% of the estimated $925 million company total required to comply with the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA’s) Mercury and Air Toxics Standards (MATS) rule.

Regional transmission operator PJM Interconnection must first review the plant deactivations for reliability impacts.

FirstEnergy last year closed nine older coal-fired power plants—a total of 3.3 GW—in Ohio, Pennsylvania, Maryland, and West Virginia, citing high costs to implement the MATS rule. According to FirstEnergy, plants closed to date include the Bay Shore Plant Units 2, 3, and 4, and the Eastlake Units 4 and 5 in Ohio; the Armstrong Power Station in Adrian, Pa.; the R. Paul Smith Plant in Williamsport, Md.; and three plants in West Virginia—Albright, Rivesville, and Willow Island.

A reliability "must-run" agreement with PJM Interconnection requires that FirstEnergy operates the Eastlake Units 1, 2, and 3, the Ashtabula Plant, and Lake Shore Plant in Ohio until at least early 2015. "After that time, the units will be deactivated," FirstEnergy spokesperson Stephanie Thornton told POWERnews on Wednesday. After the planned October deactivations, the company’s 18-GW fleet will be comprised of 56% coal, 22% nuclear, 13% renewables, and 9% gas/oil.

FirstEnergy is meanwhile finalizing MATS compliance plans for its remaining coal-fired units and plans to invest about $650 million to enhance or modify existing air quality equipment, or install new equipment, Thornton said.

The EPA’s MATS rule, published in the Federal Register on Feb. 16, 2012, requires 40% of all coal-fired power plants in the U.S. to deploy pollution control technologies to curb emissions of mercury and other air pollutants such as arsenic and cyanide. Plants with a capacity of 25 MW or more are required to comply with the standards by April 16, 2015, but the final rule also allows state permitting authorities to grant compliance extensions of one year for technology installation.

According to the National Association of Clean Air Agencies (NACAA), which conducted a survey of 41 agencies in 31 states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico, most compliance extension requests are being granted. NACAA’s survey shows that of 51 extension requests, 48 have been granted so far, three are under consideration, and "none has been refused to date."

Thornton told POWERnews that FirstEnergy has been granted a one-year compliance extension for its Pleasants, Harrison, and Fort Martin units in West Virginia, and the Bruce Mansfield plant in Pennsylvania. “After completing these upgrades, FirstEnergy expects to reduce emissions of nitrogen oxides by 84%, sulfur dioxide by 95%, and mercury by 91% below 1990 levels. In addition, the company expects to reduce carbon dioxide emissions 20 to 30% below 1990 levels by 2020,” she said.

Sources: POWERnews, COAL POWER, FirstEnergy, NACAA

Sonal Patel, Senior Writer (@POWERmagazine, @sonalcpatel)

Editor’s Note: This story was originally published on July 10