Utility plans to close nuclear plants in Ohio, Pennsylvania

By John Seewer - Associated Press

TOLEDO, Ohio (AP) — Another U.S. utility has announced plans to close its nuclear power operations as the industry struggles to compete with electricity plants that burn plentiful and inexpensive natural gas.

FirstEnergy Corp. said its three plants in Ohio and Pennsylvania will close within the next three years, barring a last-minute deal.

The company said Wednesday that it’s willing to work with both states to find a way to keep the plants open, but lawmakers remain unwilling to offer a financial rescue and it appears the plants are nearing a shutdown.

The natural gas boom and increasing use of renewable energy have combined in recent years to squeeze the nation’s aging nuclear reactors, which are expensive to operate and maintain.

New York and Illinois have responded by giving out billion dollar bailouts that will be paid by ratepayers to stop unprofitable nuclear plants from closing prematurely.

But similar proposals have been met with resistance in Connecticut and New Jersey , as well as in Ohio and Pennsylvania, because such subsidies would cause a rise in utility bills.

Backers say the nuclear plants are needed to maintain a diverse lineup of energy sources, arguing that while natural gas is cheap now, that might not always be the case. They also say the nuclear plants are vital to the rural towns where they’re located, providing millions in tax money for schools and local governments.

In Ohio, where FirstEnergy is based, state lawmakers said earlier this year that there would be no more hearings on a proposal to increase electrical bills to give the company’s plants an extra $180 million a year.

FirstEnergy said Wednesday that it plans to close its Davis-Besse nuclear plant near Toledo in 2020, and that a year later it will shut down the Perry plant near Cleveland and its Beaver Valley operation in Pennsylvania.

“Though the plants have taken aggressive measures to cut costs, the market challenges facing these units are beyond their control,” said Don Moul, president of FirstEnergy Solutions, a subsidiary that runs the nuclear plants.

The three plants, built in the 1970s, employ a combined 2,300 people that would be affected by the closings.

PJM Interconnection, which operates the electric grid covering 65 million people from Illinois east to Washington, is likely to review the impact of the potential closings.

The Davis-Besse plant has had its share of operational problems since it opened four decades ago.

It was the site of the worst corrosion ever found at a U.S. reactor when inspectors discovered an acid leak that closed the plant for extensive repairs from 2002 to 2004.

By John Seewer

Associated Press