Today, FirstEnergy (FE) announced it would retire five coal generating units no later than 2020, specifically Units 1 through 4 of its W.H. Sammis Plant and the sole remaining unit of the Bay Shore Plant; totalling 901 MWs of coal retirements. The majority of these units have been front and center in an ongoing two-year fight before the Ohio Public Utilities Commission where FirstEnergy has been trying to secure subsidies from its customers that could be used to keep these aging and ailing coal units open. In a news release, the company also raised the possibility that it could sell the Bay Shore unit instead of simply deactivating it — but FirstEnergy Generation President Jim Lash acknowledged that "[i]t's no longer economically viable to operate these facilities.”
Ohio’s rising costs of coal generation and the cheaper current gas market coupled with a rising clean, renewable energy market and major progress on cutting electricity demand in the state made these aging coal units uneconomic. FirstEnergy’s request to force customers to bail out these and other financially challenged coal units was met with a groundswell of customer and community opposition. A two-year long No Coal Bailouts campaign that attracted customers large and small, independent power producers, community leaders, and Ohio news editorial board support assured that the message was clear, Ohioans would not support coal bailouts.
Today’s announcement brings the total megawatts of coal to retire or announced to retire in Ohio since 2010 to 10,093 MW, more than any other state, and 9.5 percent of the coal to retire or announced to retire nationally. Coupled with the 1.5 gigawatts of coal generation announced to retire as part of a Sierra Club and AEP settlement in December of 2015, coal plants announced this year to retire in Ohio emitted 10 million metric tons of carbon dioxide and 41 million pounds of sulfur dioxide a year based on 2009 emissions.
This announcement is yet another major development in the two-year public and legal debate with FirstEnergy, and creates a pivotal opportunity for Ohio to join the national clean energy trend and create more manufacturing jobs in making clean energy component parts. FirstEnergy has taken the first step by announcing these retirements, and can play a major role in the evolving energy market.
Shannon Fisk, Managing Attorney at the non-profit environmental law firm Earthjustice said, “Today’s announcement is further proof that Sammis is an outdated and costly coal plant that customers should not be forced to prop up. We will continue to fight efforts that could be used to bail out other FirstEnergy coal units, as now is the time for significant investments in renewable energy, energy efficiency, and grid modernization activity that will create jobs and economic development throughout Ohio.”
These retirements will mean clearer skies and cleaner air for all Ohioans. When the FirstEnergy units retire in 2020 it will be equivalent to taking nearly 640,000 cars off the road based on the retiring units’ 2009 carbon dioxide emissions. It will also prevent 3,070 cases of asthma and 198 premature deaths annually according to plant-level 2010 estimates by Clean Air Task Force.
Dan Sawmiller, Senior Campaign Representative for Sierra Club's Ohio Beyond Coal Campaign said, “The rapid phase out of coal is a national trend that Ohio should take seriously and prepare for. We should be embracing the opportunities in front of us to diversify our electricity generation portfolio, reduce our electricity demand, and put policies in place to protect these workers and their communities as the change takes place. While there is more progress to be made with FirstEnergy, with today’s historic announcement the company is taking an important step toward a cleaner energy future.”
FirstEnergy’s announcement comes as the company has for two years failed to secure PUCO approval for billions of dollars in subsidies to bail out FirstEnergy Corp. for its bad investments in coal. In a highly contested legal proceeding, Sierra Club, represented by Earthjustice, has spent the last two years actively opposing such a bailout on the grounds that customer money should be invested in renewable energy, energy efficiency, and grid modernization; not used to bail the company out of its bad investments in uneconomical coal plants.
Bruce Nilles, National Sr. Director of Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal Campaign said, “For the past five years Ohio has led the nation in coal retirements, and ‘as goes Ohio, so goes the Nation.’ Today’s announcement follows news last week that coal units were retiring in two other coal-heavy states, Montana and North Dakota, and brings the total number of coal plants nationwide announced to retire since 2010 to 238, a whopping 45 percent of all the coal plants operating just six years ago. Ohio has, however, fallen far behind other states in installing clean energy like wind and solar. With leadership from the state’s four mammoth electric utilities and the Commission we can turn this around, building on the recently approved Sierra Club and American Electric Power settlement in which AEP committed to install 900mw of wind and solar. With solar power projected to be the number one source of new electricity generation in 2016, it’s the perfect time for Ohio to get in the game.”
"In Ohio and across the country, communities are moving toward clean sources of energy – a tectonic shift that is saving money for American families, creating jobs in growing industries and protecting the health of American children," said Antha N. Williams, head of Environmental Programs at Bloomberg Philanthropies, which has provided $80 million to the Sierra Club's Beyond Coal Campaign. "This transition is happening as a result of smart advocacy and leaders who understand the future of our energy economy will be driven by clean power, not coal."