James Lash, head of FirstEnergy’s generation unit, indicated in a press release that a review of the company’s coal-fired plants determined it would not be cost-effective to get the older ones into compliance with environmental regulations the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced in December.
The new standards are designed to reduce emissions of mercury and other toxic pollution from coal- and oil-fired power plants. The Obama administration was under court order to issue a new rule, after a court threw out an attempt by the Bush administration to exempt power plants from controls for toxic air pollution.
An Associated Press survey found that the changes were likely to result in the mothballing of dozens of units in the Midwest and in the coal belt states of Kentucky, West Virginia and Virginia.
Several factors, however, have made it easier for utilities to shut old coal plants in recent years. Power demand has been weakening in recent years because of the slow economy and energy efficiency programs. And natural gas prices, which have fallen to decade-low levels in recent weeks, have allowed utilities to switch from coal to natural gas without impacting customer bills.
Meanwhile, demand from China and elsewhere has driven up the price of coal.
FirstEnergy said its decision would directly affect 529 employees. Some of them could end up transferring to other FirstEnergy facilities and work sites, while others could take advantage of a retirement benefit being offered to employees 55 years and older, the company said.
FirstEnergy is the partent company of MetEd, the electric utility that serves eastern portions of the Lehigh Valley. It has a total of 17 coal power plants, including those that will close by September.