"When the older coal-fired plants are retired and removed from FirstEnergy's competitive and regulated generating fleet, nearly 100 percent of the power provided will come from resources that are non- or low-emitting, including nuclear, hydro, pumped-storage hydro, natural gas and scrubbed coal units," FirstEnergy said in a prepared statement.
Last month, the West Virginia Sierra Club sponsored a meeting in Preston County, to try to begin a discussion among local citizens and FirstEnergy about the Albright plant's future, the impact of a potential closure, and other economic opportunities for the area.
FirstEnergy officials did not attend, because the company had not yet announced a final decision on the facility.
"Our goal was to engage FirstEnergy in a discussion about beginning a transition to cleaner energy sources," said the Sierra Club's Jim Kotcon. "There is a lot of concern there. FirstEnergy is a major taxpayer in the county."
Kotcon said the meeting was modeled in part after work the Sierra Club did that led to a deal last year with TransAlta to phase out Washington State's only coal-fired power plant and create a $60 million fund to help the community there transition away from economic reliance on the facility.
"We think something like that has to happen in a lot of areas," Kotcon said. "We see a continued decision to reduce use of coal-fired electricity as the health impacts become more obvious.
Kotcon noted that FirstEnergy's closure date for the three West Virginia plants, as well as six other plants in Maryland, Ohio and Pennsylvania, was Sept. 1, 2012, two years before the first compliance dates in EPA's new air toxics rule.
FirstEnergy spokesman Mark Durbin said his company chose the closer closure date because it couldn't justify additional capital expenditures for maintenance and other projects at the West Virginia plants if they were going to close in a few years anyway.
But when American Electric Power announced similar plant closures in West Virginia, it set the deadline as Dec. 31, 2014, when the EPA rules were expected to kick in.
Kotcon said public officials and companies in the coalfields need to give workers and communities more time to ease such transitions as coal production drops and more plants move away from coal. "It's important to being the path toward transition so we don't end up with more communities where a company just announces they are closing a plant," Kotcon said.
Reach Ken Ward Jr. at kw...@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1702.