Updated Wed, Jul 25, 2012 7:38 am
Updated Wed, Jul 25, 2012 7:38 am
The Muskingum River Power plant is located in Washington County, near Beverly, and it's owned by American Electric Power, which has talked about closing it down.
AEP has also proposed keeping it open at a lower level of output, switching from coal to natural gas as a fuel source.
Melissa McHenry says the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio will, effectively, make the decision about Muskingum River.
"What's before the PUCO right now is called an electric security plan, or esp case, and really it sets a rate for AEP Ohio's customers going forward," says McHenry.
The case is complicated, with implications for all of AEP's electric generating facilities, not just the Muskingum River plant.
"So really, it involved what AEP will be able to charge customers for electric service going forward in the state as the state transitions to a competitive electricity model. For Muskingum River, the current plant, the plant is being affected by Environmental Protection Agency new regulations that have an impact on all coal plants in the US, not just Muskingum River, and those new regulations are going to reduce the emissions from those plants in the mid-2015 time frame," explained McHenry.
This is a good time for a quick written tour and history of the Muskingum River Plant, which has five generating units.
"The units were built at different times. The newest unit was built in 1968 and that's unit five and it's 585 megawatts. The other units were built between 1953 and 1958, and they're all in the range of 200 megawatts so they're all smaller and there are four other units at that plant," said McHenry.
It's the four older units that, for sure, are going to be shut-down.
"Their size and their age makes it not economic to make additional investments to those units. Unit five at the plant, which is one of the larger units, the current plan is to re-fuel that unit with natural gas. The Muskingum River would not bring coal any longer, but we potentially would re-fuel unit five with natural gas," says McHenry. "It wouldn't generate quite as much, there would be many fewer employees at the plant, but there would still be some generation at that site. That is the current plan, depending on what happens with the electricity security plan and then just going forward with our overall compliance plan for the EPA regulations we'll make the final determination with what happens with Muskingum River unit five."
McHenry says going from coal to natural gas would mean a significant cut in the workforce at Muskingum River.
"We currently have about 114 employees working at the plant, obviously, if we do the re-fuel to natural gas it would be much fewer, typically a natural gas unit requires about 20 employees. So the total current generating capacity is 1,425 megawatts and that would go down, too, if we re-fuel with natural gas to about a 500 megawatt plant," says McHenry.
Cutting jobs will hurt the local economy, but many people will cheer the decrease in pollution.
"The plant operates in compliance with all current environmental regulations and limits, for the facility and of course, going forward, those limits are getting to such a level that, due to the age of units one through four and the cost of scrubbing unit five, we're looking at alternatives. It is a large plant, which typically if a plant is not scrubbed, it's a question of how much volume and coal is burned at the facility. Our emissions for all our facilities are available publicly, because all of that information is reported to the EPA," says McHenry.
McHenry says a ruling from the PUCO is just around the corner, hopefully by early August.