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Smokestacks at the Colstrip Steam Electric Station, are seen  Monday July 1, 2013, inm Colstrip, Mont. (AP Photo/Matthew Brown)

EPA regulations force utility to shutter coal plant rather than revamp it

The cost of complying with federal environmental regulations has forced American Electric Power to shut down an Ohio coal plant rather than convert it to a natural gas-burning power plant, says a Buckeye State congressman.

In February, AEP reached an agreement with environmental groups, eight U.S. states and the Environmental Protection Agency to modify a 2007 lawsuit to stop burning coal at three power plants in Indiana, Kentucky and Ohio by 2015.

As part of the agreement, AEP was given the option to modify the Ohio plant to burn natural gas, but high regulatory costs and market conditions made the company decide to retire the plant instead.

Environmental regulations, lawsuits brought by activist groups and low-priced natural have contributed to the shutdown or slated retirement of more than 15,000 megawatts of coal-fired power plants. Power companies expect to shut down more than 37,000 megawatts of coal-fired electrical generation in the next decade.

“Across the country, the coal industry faces unprecedented setbacks as its share of electricity generation plummets and the cost of coal continues to skyrocket,” said Jodi Perras, Indiana Campaign Representative for the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal campaign. “This agreement is only the latest sign of progress as our country continues to transition away from dirty, dangerous, and expensive coal-fired power plants.”

The coal industry has been hit hard in recent years from stricter environmental regulations. Earlier this week it was reported that EPA regulations contributed to the closure of two Pennsylvania coal plants.

The plant operators would have had to spend $275 million upgrading the facilities to meet the EPA’s costly Mercury Air Toxics Standards, or MATS rule.

“The front line in the administration’s war on coal is right here in Southwestern Pennsylvania, and the casualties are the factories and homeowners who will pay higher electric bills, as well as the hundreds of utility workers, boilermakers, and miners who will be out of work,” said Pennsylvania Republican Rep. Tim Murphy, who represents the district the coal plants are in.

“With the shutdown of the Mitchell plant and Hatfield’s Ferry, which just four short years ago underwent $1 billion in upgrades, the president is making good on his promise to ‘bankrupt’ anyone who operates a coal plant,” he added.

Reuters reports that AEP Ohio’s total plant retirements are now at 3,123 megawatts, and that the remaining 10,725 megawatts of AEP Ohio power generation will consist of coal plants, natural gas plants and a small hydro power plant.

The company said it will work with the Ohio plant’s 95 employees to find them other jobs at other AEP facilities.

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