AEP says EPA rule would move up plant closings
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- American Electric Power said Thursday it may move up the closings of three aging coal-fired power stations in West Virginia if federal regulators finalize new rules aimed at reducing illnesses and deaths caused by plant emissions.
AEP said the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency proposal could force it to retire the Kanawha River Plant in Glasgow, the Phillip Sporn Plant in New Haven and the Kammer Plant near Moundsville by Dec. 31, 2014.
West Virginia political leaders seized on the AEP announcement to further their criticism of what they call the Obama administration's "war on coal," with Sen. Joe Manchin, Rep. Shelley Moore Capito and acting Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin all issuing statements blasting the EPA proposal.
But AEP officials pointed out that the three West Virginia plants -- all of them more than 50 years old -- were already slated to be closed between 2017 and 2020.
"These units are already slated for retirement anyway, so we don't want to overstate this," said Jeri Matheney, a spokeswoman for AEP's Appalachian Power subsidiary in Charleston.
And while about 240 jobs could be lost at the three West Virginia plants, Matheney said many of the employees in those posts could take retirement before 2014 or be transferred to other positions within AEP. Currently, 62 people work at the Kanawha River Plant, 120 at Phillip Sporn and 60 at Kammer, Matheney said.
The West Virginia plants are among five complete plant closures and six partial closures and retrofits announced by AEP as part of its plan to meet the EPA emissions reductions proposed in March.
In all, AEP would retire 6,000 megawatts of coal-fired power generation, roughly equivalent to two John Amos Power Plants. The company also plans to upgrade or install new emission controls on another 10,100 megawatts of plants.
AEP said it would also switch about 1,000 megawatts of generation from coal to natural gas, and build another 1,200 megawatts of new natural gas-fired plants.
"We support regulations that achieve long-term environmental benefits while protecting customers, the economy and the reliability of the electric grid, but the cumulative impacts of the EPA's current regulatory path have been vastly underestimated, particularly in Midwest states dependent on coal to fuel their economies," said Michael G. Morris, chairman of AEP.
In their March announcement, federal officials proposed the first-ever national standard for toxic air pollutants from coal-fired power plants, based on a congressional mandate included in the 1990 Clean Air Act.
EPA officials estimate the proposal could save an estimated 17,000 lives a year, creating $59 billion in benefits a year by 2016, while costing industry $10.9 billion per year to comply.
Columbus, Ohio-based AEP had announced last year that it planned to retire at least 5,000 megawatts of coal-fired generation, in part because of expected EPA rules to reduce emissions of toxic mercury and other hazardous air pollutants. And in its new Corporate Accountability Report, AEP says that replacing older coal plants with gas generation will help it reduce greenhouse gas emissions and meet any eventual federal limits on those emissions.
AEP said it has spent more than $7.2 billion since 1990 to reduce emissions from its coal-fired power plants.
But like most utilities, AEP has targeted those expenditures, installing advanced sulfur dioxide scrubbers and nitrogen oxide controls on newer and larger facilities. In West Virginia, most of AEP's pollution-control advances were installed John Amos in Putnam County, at the Mountaineer Plant in Mason County, and at the Mitchell Plant adjacent to Kammer.
None of the three West Virginia plants targeted for closure has the most advanced pollution reduction equipment. As a result, while the smaller plants like Kanawha River emit less pollution overall, they generate far more emissions per unit of power produced.
Earlier this year, the Tennessee Valley Authority announced it would retire 18 older coal-fired units at three of its power plants. TVA described the move as part of its "vision of being one of the nation's leading providers of low-cost and cleaner energy by 2020."
"The coal plants targeted for phase-out lack modern pollution controls and contribute to thousands of premature deaths, asthma attacks and heart attacks every year," said Mary Anne Hitt, director of the Sierra Club's Beyond Coal campaign. "It is time to replace these dirty and dangerous energy sources with clean, safe and reliable forms of production that will create thousands of jobs and revitalize local communities."
Reach Ken Ward Jr. at firstname.lastname@example.org or 304-348-1702.