Lawmakers seek help for power plants

July 25, 2013

Shortly after FirstEnergy Corp. announced its intention to close its Hatfield’s Ferry Power Station in Monongahela Township, Greene County, and Mitchell Power Station in Union Township, Washington County, and before plant workers and supporters rallied Wednesday to protest the closure, State Rep. Pam Snyder, D-Jefferson and state Sen. Tim Solobay, D-Canonsburg, were venting heir displeasure with the decision.

“The federal government is costing real people real jobs by pushing ahead with theoretical power-plant standards,” said Solobay. “Forcing the closure of reliable power plants will drive up the price of electricity for consumers and do little to improve the environment.”

When FirstEnergy first made the announcement earlier this month, a company spokesman said the company was citing the cost of complying with new federal regulations.

“I understand the economics behind the decision to close the plants,” said Snyder. “What I question are the regulatory policies that fail to atone for the damaging effects it has on the economic survival of regions that have given their life bloods to power the nation.”

In a statement, the company said the two plants scheduled for closure in the fall produce 10 percent of the company’s energy, but would have required 30 percent of the company’s estimated $925 million cost of compliance with the Environmental Protection Agency’s Mercury and Air Toxics Standards.

The plant closings, scheduled for early October, will affect 380 employees.

“I will never accept the reasoning that a low-cost, abundant resource like coal does not have a cornerstone in our energy foundation,” Snyder said. “The coal and power industry has made great strides addressing environmental concerns, and ‘clean coal’ technologies have never been given more than lip service.”

Snyder and Solobay said they will work with the state Department of Labor and Industry’s Rapid Response team to work with displaced workers seeking new employment.

“For years, public officials in this region have asked federal regulators to consider the economic impact of their overreaching new regulations,” Solobay said. “The benefit to the air quality in the northeast United States is questionable, but the effect on families in Southwestern Pennsylvania is real. It is not a balanced approach.”

Two days before the rally/protest on Route 21, the two lawmakers announced they had met with officials of FirstEnergy.

“We’re going to do everything we can to protect these good jobs and support the families affected by shut-down proposal,” Solobay said. “It might be a long shot, but we’re not going to let the federal government just roll over these workers.”

Solobay went on to say, “The EPA made a difficult situation impossible. Coal was already facing cheaper energy competition and seeing its share of the energy market decline, but losing it from our energy portfolio seems risky and premature. The hot weather we’re going through right now should be warning enough to keep a reliable source of electricity available.”

Now the two are taking their case to the Public Utility Commission.

In a letter to the PUC commissioners dated Thursday, Solobay and Snyder refer to a region that stands to be devastated by the deactivation of the Hatfield and Mitchell power plants.

“The economic blow dealt to this region in terms of the loss of jobs and tax revenues and the significant effect upon the coal industry will be profound and lasting,” the letter read.

“Of paramount concern to the Public Utility Commission is the detrimental impact that the decrease in generation will have on the safety, reliability and security of the power grid and service to our constituency,” Snyder and Solobay said.

“We call upon you, Commissioners, for your assistance in assuring that this area of Pennsylvania, already plagued by extended power outages due to insufficient FirstEnergy line maintenance and on-the-ground personnel, is not further victimized by even more frequent disruptions in service and higher electricity costs.”

Solobay and Snyder continued: “Hatfield’s closure would come just a little more than three years after FirstEnergy’s predecessor, Allegheny Power, invested more than $600 million of consumers’ hard-earned money to install scrubbers to make it one of the cleanest and inexpensive sources of power in the estate. We cannot allow this to happen.”

Jon Stevens was the Observer-Reporter’s Greene County bureau chief. During his 41 years with the O-R, he covered county government, courts and politics, and won statewide and regional writing awards.

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