In following up on my last post about how insurance companies are retreating from providing coverage for the coal industry, here is information published by Sierra Club reaffirming that the retirement of coal plants is continuing unabated by anything that is happening in Washington right now. The information presented below speaks for itself but here are some of the highlights.
“A few days ago, news broke of the two biggest coal plants ever announced for retirement in the Beyond Coal Campaign’s history.”
“we’re now counting these retirements as #272 and 273 in Beyond Coal history”
“The Bruce Mansfield power plant northwest of Pittsburgh, at 2,741 MW nameplate, is the largest power plant in Pennsylvania (coal or otherwise), and the largest coal plant in the country to announce retirement to date.”
Regarding the closing of the Ohio plant, “the 2,220 mw Sammis plant…four years, hundreds of hours of public and legal hearings, hundreds of media hits, and dozens of volunteers meetings where we had to explain regulated vs deregulated electricity markets and why the Ohio utility bailouts were a big deal, our efforts have helped retire thousands of megawatts of dirty coal.”
A few days ago, news broke of the two biggest coal plants ever announced for retirement in the Beyond Coal Campaign’s history. FirstEnergy’s Bruce Mansfield and Sammis plants both had long histories of advocacy around local pollution and high costs, but they also had friends in high places who defended these plants for years.
Public pressure and the economics of clean energy have finally caught up with FirstEnergy, and they announced these retirements on August 29. We’ve waited to count these plants both to focus our initial responses on the importance of worker transition (see our statement and my blog), and also because we wanted to make sure another shoe would not drop from the Trump Administration, like immediate news of a bailout package. That has not happened, and so we’re now counting these retirements as #272 and 273 in Beyond Coal history.
Please take a minute to read the stories below – written by staff on the ground – of the up to 7 years of advocacy behind these announcements, including incredible work from every part of this organization and many partners. As record wildfires tear through the West and a massive hurricane bears down on the East Coast, thanks to one and all for this progress that will make our air, water, climate, and future a whole lot safer and brighter.
The Bruce Mansfield power plant northwest of Pittsburgh, at 2,741 MW nameplate, is the largest power plant in Pennsylvania (coal or otherwise), and the largest coal plant in the country to announce retirement to date. As far back as 2011 Randy Francisco began providing organizing support for community members who formed the Little Blue Region Action Group, led by Roni Kampmeyer, who had a goal of holding the plant accountable for dumping its coal ash in an unlined impoundment that was leaking and forcing some nearby residents to abandon their homes. In 2012, the DEP filed a consent order to close the Little Blue Run impoundment, following an NOI from Environmental Integrity Project and Public Justice.
The closure of Little Blue Run meant that FirstEnergy needed to find another site to dump its ash by 2016, and it was eying two problematic sites along the Monongahela. With the Center for Coalfield Justice, we helped block DEP from issuing a permit for the LaBelle site, but in 2015 DEP issued a permit for ash barging and dumping at the retired Hatfield’s Ferry power plant. We appealed that permit, with help from standing witnesses Veronica Coptis (also our Chapter Chair!) and Teri Lynn Donaldson, and the legal team of our own Zack Fabish and Earthjustice’s Charley McPhedran, Lisa Perfetto, and Marie Logan. Because of the issues raised in the appeal, DEP did inspections that resulted in numerous violation notices compelling FirstEnergy to make improvements at the site. We ultimately settled the case but the delays prevented the company from dumping its ash there.
Meanwhile, we were chipping away at the plant’s allowable air pollution, by compelling DEP to adopt a stringent SO2 attainment plan, and forcing the state to finalize tighter NOx limits that resulted in a nearly 50% cut in the plant’s smog-causing pollution from 2016 to 2017. All the while, our markets team led by Casey Roberts and Mark Kresowik have been fighting off dumb capacity market rule changes to prevent the plant from being compensated more than its fair share, and ultimately leading to its failure to clear in the most recent auction. Currently, Patrick Grenter is leading the charge to make sure the plant has to comply with stricter effluent limits on mercury, selenium, arsenic, and bromide in its draft NPDES permit that our 2018 settlement force DEP to draft.
On top of all this, the Mansfield plant has been unreliable during cold weather events. In January, it suffered a massive scrubber fire that shut down two of its three units, and which remain idle to this day. So, this makes FirstEnergy’s case for a federal bailout pretty laughable, as highlighted in our recent radio ads, and we will fight it with every tool in the box.
Other folks who have played important roles fighting this plant over the years include: Seth Long, Emily Pomilio, Sean Sarah, Kim Teplitzky, Rachel Martin-Gohlman, Joanne Kilgour, and allies at Center for Coalfield Justice, Clean Water Action, Three Rivers Waterkeeper, Group Against Smog and Pollution, Clean Air Council, PennFuture, and PennEnvironment. We’re going to keep working to make sure this retirement sticks!
In August of 2014, with a handful of volunteers and a fat stack of petitions, the Ohio Beyond Coal team formally launch our No Coal Bailouts efforts. The launch, which we had been planning for months, fortuitously happened less than 24 hours after FirstEnergy filed paperwork at the Ohio PUC seeking customer funded bailouts for a number of their subsidiary generation plants.
One of those plants – the big enchilada of their case – the 2,220 mw Sammis plant.
The start of our bailout opposition efforts came on the heels of a number of painful defeats in the Ohio legislature but we quickly pivoted and were able to emphasize why these cases were so important and could deliver hope to our volunteers that were feeling particularly down at the moment. Now, four years, hundreds of hours of public and legal hearings, hundreds of media hits, and dozens of volunteers meetings where we had to explain regulated vs deregulated electricity markets and why the Ohio utility bailouts were a big deal, our efforts have helped retire thousands of megawatts of dirty coal.
Last week’s Sammis announcement, while couched in a ham fisted maneuver, is particularly sweet. The announcement was made even sweeter with the filing two days later for a new 300 mw solar farm at the Ohio Power Siting Board – the largest proposed in Ohio.
Sammis’ retirement announcement would not have been possible without the hard work of an expansive Ohio team – members both past and present – including Dan Sawmiller (now at NRDC), Nachy Kanfer, Teresa McHugh, Tony Mendozza, Kristin Henry, Shannon Fisk (EarthJustice), Michael Soules (EarthJustice), Flora Champenois (EarthJustice), Andy Wilson, Debra Cohen, Seth Long, Alison Flowers, Dany Wein, Ricky Junquera, Racheal Belz (Ohio Citizen Action), the OCA canvass crew, lead volunteers Tom Collins, Anne Caruso, Akshai Singh, Dave Simons, and countless other volunteers that in one way or another helped make this announcement happen.