This story has been updated to include comments from a GenOn Energy spokesman.
By Bryan Wroten
GenOn Energy plans to deactivate its coal-fired power plant in Avon Lake by April 2015.
According to a press release posted on the energy company’s website, the Avon Lake plant is one of many to be closed because of an insufficient return on investment.
“GenOn expects to deactivate 3,140 MWs of generating capacity in PJM between June 2012 and May 2015 because forecasted returns on investments necessary to comply with environmental regulations are insufficient,” the release stated.
GenOn will close a total of eight plants, including another Ohio plant based in Niles.
Answering questions by e-mail, GenOn spokesman Mark Baird said the upgrades at the plant would be too costly at this point.
“Environmental regulations, including EPA MATS, stricter EPA PM 2.5, Ozone NAAQS and water regulations, will require investments in SO2 removal equipment, NOx removal equipment and cooling towers,” he wrote.
The plant, which employs about 80 people, will likely continue to operate until the deactivation date. The date is based on the company’s best estimates based on the compliance deadlines for environmental regulations and forecasted market conditions. There are no plans currently for the plant past April 2015.
“If regulatory or forecasted market conditions change, we will re-evaluate our plans,” he wrote.
The Avon Lake plant recently ran into trouble with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, which filed an enforcement action against it for failing to install necessary pollution control devices.
National Public Radio released a story in November about a secret U.S. EPA “watch list,” specifically mentioning the Avon Lake plant and its lack of pollution control devices during a plant upgrade. The story also indicated the plant released into the air more than 2 million pounds of lead, mercury, arsenic and other toxic chemicals in 2010, referencing the company’s reporting to the EPA’s Toxics Release Inventory.
A spokeswoman for the U.S. EPA could not comment beyond what was available in public documents.
In October 2011, the U.S. EPA released information from a 2010 national data analysis set that showed the power plant disposed of 2.1 million pounds of chemicals on site, including 1.75 million pounds of hydrochloric acid and 214,014 pounds of sulfuric acid.
The EPA’s Greenhouse Gas Data Publication Tool reported the plant released in 2010 about 2.39 million metric tons of carbon dioxide, 6,532 metric tons of methane and 14,030 metric tons of nitrous oxide.
In a past interview, Baird said the company disagreed with the NPR report and stated GenOn was in compliance with all federal and Ohio EPA regulations. He said the company also disagreed with the U.S. EPA’s notice.
Mayor Greg Zilka, already troubled by a city trying to keep its local business, found the news disheartening.
“It’s a very frustrating way to start a day, but it is what it is,” he said.
In 2011, the city received $77,463 in income tax and about $134,000 from the plant, he said.
“I shudder to think what impact this will have on the schools,” Zilka said. “I can only guess what their hit is going to be.”
While the county is working on the different scenarios that would change the property tax revenue, Superintendent Bob Scott said the school district knows it will lose $2.4 million a year from utility taxes. The district is also waiting for property taxes paid by the plant in 2011.
The school system was hit hard a few years ago when the plant, then owned by RRI Energy, received a $22 million reduction in taxable personal property value through the Ohio Department of Taxation in October 2009. The lowered valuation meant $1.6 million a year less for the school district and $161,900 less a year for the city. This came right after the estimated $234,000 drop in yearly tax revenue for the city and school district from home value decreases.
“It’s important we balance the environment and the loss of business,” Ward 1 Councilman Rob James said.
James, chairman of the Environmental Committee, said anytime there’s a loss of jobs because of environmental regulations, it is a concern.
“I would hope, though it’s not in our control, some balance can be found where the power plant can comply with environmental regulations and continue to operate and provide jobs,” he said.
It the plant does close, the city should look at it as an opportunity and find ways to repurpose the land, whether it’s for recreational or industrial use, he said.
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