FirstEnergy conversion plans change to shut-down

By Anna Austin | November 17, 2010

For nearly two years, FirstEnergy Corp. has been making plans to repower two units at its 312-megawatt R.E. Burger coal-fired power plant in Shadyside, Ohio, with biomass.

Permission to classify the project as renewable was granted by the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio in August, despite opposition from some environmental groups. That would have allowed FirstEnergy to generate renewable energy credits under the state renewable portfolio standard, which is currently set at 12.5 percent renewable energy by 2025.

Once the project was completed, it would have become one of the largest biomass power plants in the country, requiring about 1 million tons of feedstock per year.  Initially, FirstEnergy announced a memorandum of understanding with Renewafuel LLC for a biomass cube supply, but the agreement fell through because the distance between the two facilities made it uneconomical to transport the cubed fuel (from upper Michigan to the Ohio River).  

Now, FirstEnergy has made the decision to permanently shut down the units as of the end of December, citing that market prices for electricity have fallen significantly, and expected market prices no longer support a repowered Burger Plant.

Gary Leidich, executive vice president of FirstEnergy, said that despite the company’s best efforts, it was unable to overcome the challenges of the difficult economy to cost-effectively repower the Burger plant.

The 79 employees that work at the plant, which has been producing electricity since 1944, will either continue to work at the plant through the shut-down process or be reassigned to work at other FirstEnergy power facilities, according to the company. That includes the W.H. Sammis Plant in Stratton, Ohio, which is about 40 miles away.

Burger Plant units 4 and 5 were included as part of a 2005 consent decree settlement with the U.S. EPA and three northeastern states per the company's New Source Review case involving its W. H. Sammis Plant. Under the consent decree, FirstEnergy was obligated to repower, scrub or shut down the units as part of an overall compliance plan to reduce system-wide emissions of sulfur dioxide.