By CARL FEATHER and SHELLEY TERRY
ASHTABULA TOWNSHIP —
FirstEnergy Corp. will close six of its older coal-fired power plants located in three states, including the plant in Ashtabula Township, by Sept. 1, company officials said Thursday.
The decision to close the plants is based on the company’s plan to comply with new environmental regulations.
Fifty-seven employees at the Ashtabula Township Plant are among the 529 workers in Ohio, Maryland and Pennsylvania who will lose their jobs as a result of retiring the antiquated plants. Forty-four of the Ashtabula workers are represented by a union.
Mark Durbin, senior public relations representative for FirstEnergy, said affected employees will be able to apply for other jobs at FirstEnergy generation facilities. Those workers who are near retirement age will be considered for benefit packages. And those who don’t qualify for retirement offers will be provided severance packages.
Bambi Paulchel, chairwoman of the Ashtabula Township trustees, called the job loss “devastating,” as it comes at a time when unemployment is at an all time high in the community.
County commissioners learned of the closing through a news release sent to their office Thursday morning, but Board President Peggy Carlo said it did not come as a complete surprise. FirstEnergy put its Ashtabula plant in a reserve status two years ago and has used it only for peak demands.
“It will be a big loss,” Carlo said.
The impact will be more than jobs. Durbin said because the property will no longer be generating electricity, its assessed value will decline steeply. The utility will seek a reduction in the valuation of the 137-acre site and, correspondingly, the amount of property taxes it pays.
“The plant, if it is not producing electricity, does not have nearly the value,” Durbin said.
Ashtabula County Auditor Roger Corlett said his office was attempting to determine what the fiscal impact will be to the county, Buckeye Local Schools and township, but could not provide a number on Thursday. The appraised value on the property is about $8.7 million and taxes are just under $200,000 annually.
Durbin said the utility has not made any decisions on what to do with the property after the operations there are closed. He said the plant would be kept secure and environmentally safe.
First Energy announced the closings Thursday in an initiative to comply with the Environmental Protection Agency’s Mercury and Air Toxics Standards that seek to reduce mercury and other emissions from the plants.
“Corporations are having to make ‘bottom-line’ decisions whether to invest large sums of money on old facilities in order to abide by new clean air acts and anti-pollution rules – which is absolutely necessary to reduce emissions to protect human life and the environment,” Paulchel said. “FirstEnergy's website shows they have $48 billion in assets and $18 billion annual revenue. So, it's unfortunate for our community that they have chosen to close the plants instead of re-investing.”
Dating from 1930, the Ashtabula plant was fired with coal. Brian Anderson, executive director of Growth Partnership for Ashtabula County, said that made it an “inefficient, expensive and environmentally dirty” facility.
“It was not a question of not if, but when, it would close,” Anderson said.
FirstEnergy is a Growth Partnership trustee, and Anderson said he plans to call a meeting with the utility to discuss the future of the property. When FirstEnergy closed its Plant C generating/raw water plant several years ago, the Ashtabula County Port Authority worked out a purchase so the water plant would continue to service industries in the area.
Anderson said FirstEnergy and other utility companies that burn coal are at a crossroads and are having to make very hard decisions.
“They are caught between government regulations and free markets, and the utilities have to try to find where that balance is,” Anderson said.
The total capacity of the competitive plants that will be retired is 2,689 megawatts. Recently, these plants served mostly as peaking or intermediate facilities, generating, on average, about 10 percent of the electricity produced by the company over the past three years.
The other plants to be retired are: Bay Shore Plant, Units 2-4, Oregon, Ohio; Eastlake Plant, Eastlake, Ohio; Lake Shore Plant, Cleveland, Ohio; Armstrong Power Station, Adrian, Pa.; and R. Paul Smith Power Station, Williamsport, Md.