FirstEnergy Corp. on Thursday became the first major U.S. power company to close aging coal-fired power plants because of tougher new air pollution rules.
It won't be the last.
"Increasingly with these older plants, it's more expensive to clean them up than shut them down," said M. Granger Morgan, head of the engineering and public policy department at Carnegie Mellon University.
FirstEnergy announced it would close six plants -- including the 54-year-old Armstrong Power Station in Adrian in Armstrong County -- rather than comply with federal Environmental Protection Agency rules to reduce mercury and soot emissions. The company operates 17 coal power plants.
"Everybody that has older coal plants is doing the calculation," Morgan said.
Four power plants in Ohio and one in Maryland will be shut down by Sept. 1, said FirstEnergy, which is based in Akron, Ohio.
More than 500 FirstEnergy employees will be affected, including 60 in Armstrong County. The company said some of the laid-off workers may be offered jobs at other plants.
Environmental groups cheered the announcement.
"Above all, this is a win for public health and for families who have been breathing polluted air from these outdated plants," said Bruce Nilles, senior director of the Sierra Club's Beyond Coal campaign.
Armstrong County officials said they were "deeply disturbed" by the job losses.
"Not only are good-paying jobs being lost at the Armstrong power plant; jobs will certainly be lost in ancillary industries, support services and by small coal-mining operations," said Dave Battaglia, chairman of the county Board of Commissioners.
Other energy companies are likely to follow FirstEnergy's lead.
American Electric Power Co. Inc. of Columbus, Ohio, the nation's largest electricity producer, said in June that it would close five plants and partially shut six others if the EPA's mercury and other pollution rules were approved.
A company spokesman said AEP has been reviewing its closure plan since the rules were finalized. The company has "very deep concerns" about electric grid reliability if it closes plants in Virginia, West Virginia and Ohio. …