Residents sue Hatfield's Ferry over pollution

Three Masontown residents have filed a federal class-action suit against the Hatfield’s Ferry power station and its parent company FirstEnergy, claiming property damage from substances emitted during the plant’s operation. (Photo by Roberto M. Esquivel)

FirstEnergy unexpectedly announced on Tuesday that it is deactivating Hatfield’s Ferry Power Station in Greene County and a power plant in Washington County rather than put them through expensive retrofitting needed to comply with anti-pollution regulations.

The company made the public announcement shortly after it broke the news to employees in the morning.

“The union was just notified at 7:30 this morning. We’re still evaluating what little information they’ve given us, and we’re going to meet with them on Thursday,” said Bob Whelan, president of Utility Workers of America (UWA) Local 102. “We were caught completely off guard. Obviously, they’re not happy. They’re in shock.”

Hatfield, which was built in 1969 and has 174 employees, and the Mitchell Power Station near New Eagle, which employs 206 people, will be shut down by Oct. 9, the company said.

FirstEnergy said 107 of Hatfield’s employees are represented by the UWA, but Whalen said 182 of Hatfield’s employees are members of the union.

“The men and women who work in these plants dedicate themselves to working in these plants to produce safe and reliable electricity. It’s not an easy job that they do, but they do it very well,” Whalen said, adding that both plants operate efficiently.

The unionized workers will receive severance benefits specified in their contract, and the company employees will receive severance benefits from the company.

Both plants produce up to 2,080 megawatts of electricity, which is about 10 percent of FirstEnergy’s total of production, but adding pollution controls would cost $278 million, or 30 percent, of the $925 million needed to make all the company’s plants comply with the regulations, the company said.

At Hatfield, a $245 million retrofit would be needed to make its three coal-burning generators comply with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Mercury and Air Toxics Standards (MATS), said FirstEnergy spokeswoman Stephanie Thornton. The Mitchell plant has two power units — one coal-fired and one oil-fired.

“It would require additional investment to comply with that. Additional equipment would be needed to comply with MATS standards,” Thornton said.

That spending would have been in addition to the hundreds of millions that Hatfield’s previous owner, Allegheny Energy, spent on reducing pollution.

The most recent was the installation of a $700 million flue gas desulfurization, or scrubber, system that was designed to remove 95 percent of sulfur dioxide emissions and significantly reduce mercury emissions in 2009.

Before the scrubbers were installed, the plant discharged between 145,000 to 148,000 tons of sulfur dioxide from the 3.5 millions tons of coal it burned in a year.

Allegheny Energy also received state approval to add 180 acres to Hatfield’s 187-acre landfill to accommodate the 1.5 million tons of calcium sulfate the scrubber produces as a byproduct.

A $13.8 million nitrogen oxide control system was installed in the mid-1990s, and a $27 million natural gas reburn system was installed about 12 years ago.

By the end of 2006, Allegheny Energy said it spent $246.5 million on pollution reduction, including $174.4 million on air pollution controls, $55.2 million on water pollution controls, $16.2 million on solid waste disposal controls and $700,000 on other controls.

Allegheny Energy, which was based in Greensburg, was acquired by FirstEnergy of Akron, Ohio, for $4.7 billion in stock in 2011. The transaction made FirstEnergy one of the largest utilities in the country.

Closing Hatfield and Mitchell would leave FirstEnergy with six coal-burning plants, three nuclear-powered plants and several hydro-electric, and natural gas plants capable of generating a total of 18,000 megawatts. The coal plants would produce 56 percent of that electricity, nuclear plants would produce 22 percent, renewable sources would produce 13 percent and oil and gas plants would produce 9 percent.

FirstEnergy said it plans to invest $650 million at its remaining plants to make them MATS-compliant. The result will be an 84 percent reduction in nitrogen emissions, 95 percent less sulfur dioxide emissions, a 91 percent reduction in mercury emissions and a 20-30 percent reduction in carbon dioxide emissions below 1900 levels.

Nearly all of FirstEnergy’s power will come from sources that produce little or no pollution, including nuclear, hydo, natural gas and scrubbed coal plants after Hatfield and Mitchell are closed the company said.

FirstEnergy previously announced plans to deactivate nine coal-fired plants in Ohio, Pennsylvania and Maryland due to MATS regulations, but agreed to continue operating three of them in Ohio through early 2015 because PJM Interconnection, the regional power grid operator, said the closings would leave the area with inadequate power supply.

“They asked us to keep those running,” Thornton said.

PJM will review the plans to close Hatfield and Mitchell to make sure FirstEnergy customers would have ample power, she said.

“We are confident that there will be enough power for our customers. We’ll still be able to provide enough power to support our customers’ electricity needs,” Thornton said.

“We’re also questioning what’s going to happen to the transmission grid and where the power is going to come from to replace these two stations,” Whalen said. “We’re concerned about reliability and production.”

She said the company will maintain the landfill at Hatfield after it closes, but hasn’t decided if the site would continue accepting byproducts from other plants.

Thornton said she wasn’t authorized to comment on the impact the plant closings would have on its coal-purchasing contracts.


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