Ohio Utility Says Two Coal Plants Could Close Next Year

An Ohio-based utility said it plans to deactivate or sell the remaining coal-fired units at two of its power plants in 2023, five years earlier than previously expected.

Akron-based Energy Harbor made the announcement March 14. The company in a news release said it wants to be a carbon-free power generator by the end of next year. The plants that will be either be sold or closed are the W.H. Sammis facility along the Ohio River in Jefferson County, and the Pleasants Power Station in Willow Island, West Virginia.

“Retiring the fossil-fueled plants is a difficult but necessary strategic business decision critical to the continued transformation of our company,” said David Hamilton, Energy Harbor’s COO, executive vice president, and chief nuclear officer, in a statement. “I am grateful for the dedication and work ethic of our employees as well as the strong support shown by their union leaders and the communities where the plants are located.”

The units to be closed or sold include three at Sammis (Units 5, 6, and 7), with total generation capacity of 1,694 MW. Some smaller units at Sammis that burn diesel oil are also included in the plan.

Units 1 and 2 at the 1,368-MW Pleasants Power Station also are scheduled to be retired if a buyer cannot be found.

John Judge, Energy Harbor’s President and CEO, said, “Over the past two years, it has been made abundantly clear to us that our customers, communities, and capital markets partners recognize the value of partnering with Energy Harbor as we help transform clean energy supply.  The carbon-free, reliable baseload power generated by our nuclear units is recognized as critical infrastructure required for the U.S. clean energy transition.  With our exit from fossil generation ownership, we will be uniquely positioned as one of the few 100% carbon-free energy infrastructure and supply companies in the U.S.”

Energy Harbor earlier closed Units 1-4 at Sammis in 2020, and had told state officials it would retire the three remaining units by year-end 2028. The Sammis plant was caught up in an energy scandal in Ohio after Energy Harbor—formerly known as FirstEnergy Solutions, and a subsidiary of FirstEnergy Corp.—in 2018 said it would close Sammis in 2022. That plan changed a year later after Ohio lawmakers in 2019 passed House Bill 6, a $1 billion-plus plan to keep the utility’s two Ohio-based nuclear power plants in service.

The utility after passage of the bill said it would be able to keep Sammis online, since operating the nuclear plants would improve the company’s financial situation, said Judge at the time. However, the nuclear bailout was repealed last year after federal authorities charged ex-Ohio House Speaker Larry Householder and five others with using $60 million in FirstEnergy bribe money to secure the passage of HB 6.

Householder, along with co-defendant Matt Borges, a former Ohio Republican Party chair, have said they are innocent of any wrongdoing; they are scheduled to go on trial in January 2023. Three other defendants in the case already have pleaded guilty, and one committed suicide.

Monday’s announcement from Energy Harbor leaves just three large coal-fired plants— Cardinal in Jefferson County, Gavin in Gallia County, and Kyger Creek in Gallia County—in Ohio that have not announced plans to close over the next few years.

Gavin and Clifty Creek, though, are among plants that could be in jeopardy due to recent actions by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The EPA in January proposed denying requests by the two plants to continue using unlined surface ponds to hold coal ash, a residual toxic byproduct of burning coal that can contaminate groundwater if not properly stored.

Darrell Proctor is a senior associate editor for POWER (@POWERmagazine).

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