(The Center Square) – Pennsylvania’s largest coal-fired power plant will shut down in July, leaving the commonwealth with only coal refuse-burning facilities.
Decommissioning at the Homer City Power Plant, 50 miles east of Pittsburgh, will begin July 1. Environmental groups cheer the disappearance of coal, but local leaders worry about the loss of jobs and tax revenue on the local economy.
“For almost six decades, the Homer City Power Plant has served our community and the entire region very well,” Sen. Joe Pittman, R-Indiana, said in a release. “As we are faced with an uncertain future, we will move forward together and support the families affected by the loss of these good, family sustaining jobs.”
Homer City has been in operation since 1969 and could power up to 2 million homes at capacity. However, energy production hasn’t been so strong in recent years.
“Changes in ownership, operators, and gaps in maintenance have led to operational issues and instability,” NRG Energy said in a case study where it improved the plant’s reliability.
It ran at less than half-capacity since 2015, and only at 20 percent capacity in 2022, the Sierra Club said.
“Beyond our area, this troubling news is a realization that we as a nation are at risk of losing the reliability of our power grid,” Pittman said. “Removing this source of electricity production from our power grid will certainly not help to keep down costs for consumers. We must continue to advance initiatives that create greater energy independence for our commonwealth.”
More than 100 workers will be laid off, Pittsburgh’s WTAE reported. Homer City Borough Manager Rob Nymick told WTAE that the budget loss “kills us.”
The plant had financial struggles for years. In 2017, it went through a bankruptcy reorganization that eliminated $600 million in debt. In its annual reports to the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission as far back as 2010, company officials warned of its market vulnerability.
“State and local environmental regulations … could put the Homer City plant at a disadvantage compared with competing power plants operating in nearby states and subject to less stringent state emission limits,” the company’s Form 10-K says. “Potential future climate change regulations could also put the Homer City plant at a disadvantage … the ability of these plants to compete may be affected by governmental and regulatory activities designed to support the construction and operation of power generation facilities fueled by renewable energy sources.”
Renewable energy isn’t the only challenge to coal plants. Natural gas, as The Center Square previously reported, has gone from producing 2 percent of Pennsylvania’s electricity in 2001 to 52 percent in 2021. Coal has fallen from 57 percent to 12 percent.
Environmental groups noted Homer City’s plant closure as part of a larger shift.
Tom Schuster, director of the Sierra Club Pennsylvania chapter, argued that renewable energy such as solar and wind is less expensive to operate than the vast majority of coal plants.
“Increasing costs of compliance with congressionally mandated, life-saving air and water protections are just more evidence that coal cannot be both cheap and clean, and that its long-running decline is driven by obsolescence and will continue with or without” the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, Schuster said in a press release.
PennFuture echoed the Sierra Club.
“These legacy plants have been unable to compete with cheaper generation from fracked gas and, increasingly, clean renewable generation,” PennFuture Communications Director Leigh Martinez wrote in a statement. “It simply costs more to dig up and crush coal than it is to replace plants with cleaner alternatives. Rather than recognizing that this shift in the market was underway and preparing for the transition to clean, renewable generation, fossil-fuel-friendly legislators have spent years in denial.”
The coal industry has blamed its decline on state and federal environmental regulations like RGGI for additional costs that make operating a coal plant uneconomical.
“To date, more than two-thirds of the U.S. coal fleet has either retired or announced plans to retire by 2030,” says a news release from America’s Power, a trade group funded by the coal industry. “In addition, the Environmental Protection Agency is implementing or developing at least six rules that will cause more coal plant closures by the end of the decade.”
Anthony Hennen is a reporter for The Center Square. Previously, he worked for Philadelphia Weekly and the James G. Martin Center for Academic Renewal. He is managing editor of Expatalachians, a journalism project focused on the Appalachian region.
This article was republished with permission from The Center Square.