The utility FirstEnergy announced Wednesday that it’s closing three nuclear power plants by 2021 without improved market conditions or action by lawmakers or regulators, The Cleveland Plain Dealer reported.
FirstEnergy will close two plants in Ohio and one in Pennsylvania, the latest of 14 premature plant closures that have taken place or been announced in the last five years. The announcement comes amid Department of Energy fears that the national grid is becoming less reliable with a flood of coal plant departures.
FirstEnergy is struggling under billions of dollars of debt. The company has racked up $1.7 billion in debt while a subsidiary, FirstEnergy Solutions, owes more than $2.8 billion to creditors. FirstEnergy’s first debt payment of $100 million is due April 1, according to The Plain Dealer.
To avoid bankruptcy, the company has asked regulators and lawmakers to intervene.
“We call on elected officials in Ohio and Pennsylvania to consider policy solutions that would recognize the importance of these facilities to the employees and local economies in which they operate, and the unique role they play in providing reliable, zero-emission electric power for consumers in both states,” FirstEnergy Solutions President and Chief Nuclear Officer Don Moul said in a statement announcing the shutdowns.
The company has also launched a long-shot plea to the DOE, arguing the agency should use authority under the Federal Power Act to force the regional grid manager, PJM Interconnection, to compensate utilities running old power plants “for the full benefits they provide to energy markets and the public at large, including fuel security and diversity.”
The DOE has rarely used such power since it is reserved for national emergencies and crisis. FirstEnergy claims the disappearance of coal and nuclear plants from the grid, especially in the Northeast, constitute a national emergency.
DOE analysts recently credited power generated from coal plants with fending off disaster from January’s bomb cyclone that hit New England.
The American Petroleum Institute (API), an oil and natural gas trade group, has disputed the claims of FirstEnergy that grid resilience is in jeopardy. Natural gas power plants running on cheap fuel is one of the largest factors driving coal and nuclear plants prematurely off the grid.
FirstEnergy’s disaster warnings are an excuse to force consumers to pay more for power based on a fictitious fear, API says.
“According to PJM, we have more than enough electricity in the grid to handle these retirements thanks to additional natural gas plants in the region,” API Market Development Group Director Todd Snitchler said in a statement. “For FirstEnergy to cry wolf on the issue of grid reliability is irresponsible and is the company’s latest attempt to force consumers to pay for a bailout. PJM is responsible for the reliability of the grid and if there is an emergency, PJM already has the tools to respond.”
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