FirstEnergy studies reopening Hatfield’s Ferry plant

Bob Niedbala
Observer Reporter

FirstEnergy Corp. is conducting a long-term study to determine whether it is feasible to reopen its Hatfield’s Ferry Power Plant in Monongahela Township, Greene County.

“We don’t have current plans to restart the plant,” FirstEnergy spokeswoman Jennifer Young said Tuesday. “We’re only evaluating whether this would be a feasible option down the road.”

FirstEnergy closed the 1,710-megawatt plant and its 370-megawatt Mitchell Power plant in Washington County in October 2013. The two coal-fired plants together employed about 380 workers.

The company attributed the closings to the weak demand for electricity, low electricity prices and the costs of bringing the plants into compliance with environmental regulations.

Since that time, the company has seen some “positive movement” in market and capacity conditions, though not enough to commit to a plan to reopen a closed plant such as Hatfield’s Ferry, Young said.

FirstEnergy is conducting an extensive evaluation to determine whether it is feasible to operate the power plant burning coal, burning a combination of coal and natural gas or burning only natural gas.

“Many factors will play into this,” Young said.

They include the price of natural gas, the costs of any plant conversions and the costs of complying with existing and proposed environmental regulations, she said. No similar review is being done for the closed Mitchell Power Plant, Young said. FirstEnergy, in addition, will continue to entertain any offers it might receive to sell Hatfield’s Ferry, she said.

In October 2014, FirstEnergy asked PJM Interconnect, the regional electrical grid operator, to preserve its rights to offer power to the grid produced at Hatfield’s Ferry to give it time to evaluate options for the plant, Young said.

“We have the rights through the second quarter of 2019, so we expect to complete any studies by then and will determine whether we’re moving ahead at that time,” she said.

State Rep. Pam Snyder, D-Jefferson, who had fought to keep the power plant open, said she was surprised to hear Tuesday that the company is investigating reopening the plant.

Snyder said she interacts with company officials in Harrisburg regularly and has had multiple meetings with company officials on various issues, the last in mid-November.

“No one ever indicated this was on the radar screen, but I would love to see it on the radar screen,” she said.

It would be good if a plan could move forward to reopen the plant, Snyder said, not only for the jobs it would provide but also for the ability of the plant to again supply power to the electrical grid.

Snyder said she had contacted the company Tuesday morning to get more information about its plan.

Prior to closing the plant, FirstEnergy officials said the company had investigated converting the plant to burn natural gas but found that would not be economical.

They also spoke of the high costs of bringing the plants into compliance with the federal Mercury and Air Toxic Standards that took effect last year and with other proposed environmental regulations.

About four years prior to the closing, FirstEnergy’s predecessor, Allegheny Power, had invested $650 million to install scrubbers at the plant to reduce sulfur dioxide emissions.

If the plant were to be re-started with coal as the fuel, Young said, the company would probably still have to install equipment to address the mercury emission standards.

FirstEnergy also will have to wait to see how the state will implement the requirements of the federal Clean Power Plan, she said. The plan will require the state to reduce its emissions of carbon dioxide by 33 percent by the year 2030.