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Mercury rule raises the cost of coal
Akron's FirstEnergy is closing half of its coal plants due to lower demand and the high costs of making coal a clean fuel

Reporter / Host
Jeff St. Clair
The Hatfield's Ferry power station sits along the Monongahela River south of Pittsburgh. The plant would require $245 million in upgrades to comply with new U.S. EPA rules limiting emissions of mercury and other toxins. The plant will close this fall.
Courtesy of FirstEnergy
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In The Region:

An Ohio utility is closing two of its coal-fired power plants in western Pennsylvania.

WKSU’s Jeff St.Clair reports lower demand and increased regulations are changing energy production in the region.


LISTEN: St.Clair on plant closings

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Akron-based First Energy is closing two aging coal-powered plants south of Pittsburgh. The two will join four plants in Ohio, one in West Virginia, and one in Maryland that are slated to, or have already closed.

The shut-downs come after the U.S. EPA adopted more stringent rules for emissions of mercury and other toxins. Those rules go into effect in April, 2015. 

First Energy’s Mark Durbin says the regulations, along with decreased demand for electricity, are changing the economics of the company’s power generation system.

“Getting electricity to the market-place is not an easy thing to do. Whether it’s the nuclear plant, whether it’s the fossil plants that we have, even the natural gas plants… it’s a very expensive proposition. So we’ll keep spending those dollars, we’ll meet the rules, and we’ll be able to provide electricity to our customers.”

FirstEnergy is spending some $650 million in upgrades to its six remaining coal plants. Mercury is a persistent neurotoxin found naturally in coal.  The EPA estimates the new standards will prevent 11,000 premature deaths per year and save $37 billion in health costs nationwide.

U.S. utilities may mothball between 60,000 MW – 100,000 MW in coal-fired power plant generation by 2015.  That’s when new EPA rules take effect that strictly limit the amount of mercury and other toxins allowed from smokestacks.  The EPA estimates the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards (MATS) will save $37 billion to $90 billion in health costs each year after the rule takes effect.

Coal consumption has fallen 21% over the past five years. Competition from abundant shale gas, increased efficiency, and the economic slowdown have driven down energy costs and, with the MATS rules, made coal more expensive.  Around 42% of electricity is generated by burning coal, down from 50% in 2003 (2011, U.S. Energy Information Admin.)

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