PJM: FirstEnergy plant closures won’t hurt reliability

Source: Jeffrey Tomich, E&E News reporter • Posted: Thursday, October 4, 2018

FirstEnergy Solutions Corp. can shut down 4,000 megawatts of coal- and diesel-fired generation in Ohio and Pennsylvania without hurting electricity reliability, according to regional grid operator PJM Interconnection.

The generating subsidiary of FirstEnergy Corp., which filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection earlier this year, announced on Aug. 29 that it would deactivate seven coal units and a small petroleum-fueled unit in 2021 and 2022.

The president of FES Generation said the unit deactivations were subject to the PJM analysis and could be postponed or reversed if the Trump administration responds to the company’s request to subsidize its struggling coal and nuclear units.

So far, the Department of Energy hasn’t given any indication of when or if it will act on FirstEnergy’s request to rescue coal and nuclear plants that are losing money because of inexpensive natural gas and eroding demand.

Energy Secretary Rick Perry said last week that the agency’s work on the issue is complete and the decision rests with the White House (Energywire, Sept. 27).

The FES plants to be retired include three coal-fired units representing 2,490 MW at the Bruce Mansfield plant in Shippingport, Pa., on June 1, 2021; a small coal-fired unit in Eastlake, Ohio; and three coal units totaling 1,490 MW and a small diesel- and oil-fueled unit at the W.H. Sammis plant in Stratton, Ohio (Greenwire, Aug. 30).

The announcement follows a decision by the company to deactivate three FES nuclear plants in Ohio and Pennsylvania. In April, PJM determined the reactor shutdowns in 2020 and 2021 won’t affect reliability of the regional transmissions system. The grid operator made the same finding with respect to the coal units.

“Any potential reliability impacts will be addressed by a combination of already planned baseline transmission upgrades and the completion of new baseline upgrades,” PJM spokesman Jeffrey Shields said in an emailed statement.

Also, the planned deactivations are three to four years out, providing enough time for any needed transmission upgrades to be completed, PJM said.

The grid operator plans to discuss details of the reliability study at a committee meeting next week, Shields said.

An FES spokesman didn’t return an email seeking comment on the PJM analysis.

Grid operators such as PJM study the impact on the transmission system when utilities announce plans to deactivate generating units and can require plants to continue running if there’s a need.

Shields said PJM is also analyzing the “resilience” of the bulk power grid, including the ability to deal with potential fuel disruptions and how characteristics such as fuel security can be valued by markets.

The FirstEnergy coal deactivations will factor into that study, which PJM expects to complete in the coming months, he said.