Solobay bill would create new commission

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After a winter of power-consumption warnings in Western Pennsylvania, state Sen. Tim Solobay, D-Canonsburg, announced Monday new legislation that would require a closer review of plans to deactivate coal-fired power plants.


Solobay’s legislation, Senate Bill 1273, would establish the Coal-Fired Electric Generation Deactivation Commission, which would be charged with reviewing and investigating the potentially adverse impacts that plant closures have on the economy, electric reliability and the environment.


“We learned over the winter that the grid operator and the power companies are not doing a good job predicting the supply and demand for electricity,” Solobay said. “In the end, it’s consumers who suffer for their shortsightedness.”


After the closure of two coal-fired power plants – the Mitchell Power Plant in Washington County and Hatfield’s Ferry in Greene County last fall – consumers were warned to cut back on electric consumption during two cold snaps in January. The problem was caused by difficulty supplying natural-gas power plants during the extreme cold weather, a possibility never mentioned during testimony officials of grid operator PJM Interconnection at hearings in Greene County.


The hearings were held to discuss the impact of FirstEnergy’s planned closings of the Hatfield’s Ferry and Mitchell power plants.


“I asked PJM people directly about power shortages, and we were told that there would be no problems with supply,” Solobay said. “Our warnings about the supply of natural gas being stretched thin and the need for coal to balance our energy portfolio were ignored.”


Solobay said no federal or state agency is responsible for considering the big picture when it comes to power plants, with every regulatory group having a limited scope. The Deactivation Commission would take a wider view of future power needs to include the economy and the environment, he said.


The legislation also has provisions to protect power plant workers from sudden decisions about their future and to remediate the plant site.


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