Electricity producers do not plan to retrofit any local coal-fired power plants to run on natural gas, but they acknowledge future plants may be more likely to run on gas than coal.
With new federal regulations making it more difficult to use coal for electricity, local energy leaders were asked, "Two of the area's coal-fired power plants have either closed or announced plans to close over the next few years. What possibility exists for refitting those power plants to become natural gas-fired operations so that workers in their 20s can work in this field?"
"It isn't cost effective - and in most cases not even feasible - to convert a coal-fired generating unit to use natural gas," said Pat D. Hemlepp, director of corporate media relations for American Electric Power. The company now owns and operates the Kammer and Mitchell plants south of Moundsville, as well as the Cardinal Plant near Brilliant. "If you do that you typically end up with an inefficient, expensive-to-operate natural gas plant."
New U.S. Environmental Protection Agency regulations regarding air emissions are leading AEP to close the Kammer plant by the end of 2014. However, company officials are confident they will be able to meet electricity demands without using this plant.
AEP Ohio also has plans to sell the Mitchell plant to Charleston-based Appalachian Power, pending federal and state approval. Both companies are subsidiaries of the AEP parent company.
Though AEP does not have plans to switch local coal-fired plants to run on natural gas, President and Chief Executive Officer Nicholas Akins said the company plans to generate more power with gas in the future.
Q: Two of the area's coal-fired power plants have either closed or announced plans to close over the next few years. What possibility exists for refitting those power plants to become natural gas-fired operations so that workers in their 20s can work in this field?
A: None, as American Electric Power said it will not convert its Kammer Plant in Marshall County, which is set to close in 2014, and FirstEnergy Corp. will not convert its shuttered R.E. Burger Plant in Shadyside.
"Natural gas will become an increasing part of AEP's generating portfolio in the coming decades as a result of the development of shale gas reserves and new environmental regulations," he said.
AEP recently started commercial operation of the Dresden, Ohio natural gas-fired power plant. With the start-up of the Dresden plant, AEP has added more than 4,800 megawatts of natural gas-fired capacity to its generating fleet in the past decade. Natural gas accounts for 24 percent of AEP's total generating capacity.
AEP spokeswoman Melissa McHenry said the company's other power plants that already run on natural gas include:
"This is another step in the transformation of AEP's generating fleet as we continue to diversify our fuel mix to improve our environmental footprint and provide economical electricity for our customers," added Akins regarding the Dresden plant.
For many years, Consol Energy has fueled the AEP Kammer and Mitchell plants with coal from its Shoemaker and McElroy mines. However, Consol Chief Operating Officer Randy Albert said last year the company believes natural gas - which Consol produces under the CNX Gas Corp. banner - will replace coal as the fuel source for electricity in certain areas.
"When you look at the energy situation in this country, coal-fired power plants are going to be shut down and replaced by gas-fired plants. We can see the writing on the wall with coal," he said. "Our growth at Consol is going to come from the gas sector."
An already closed local power plant is the FirstEnergy Corp. R.E. Burger Plant south of Shadyside.
"Currently, there is an excess of generation in the marketplace, which has resulted in depressed prices for power. So even though gas is available, we still would not be able to justify the cost of what it would take to retrofit any existing units or build new gas-fired turbines," said FirstEnergy spokesman Mark Durbin.