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A huge animal, thrashing around in its death throes, threatens nearby smaller animals. Such is the case with coal-dependent American Electric Power. Thursday, it announced that it would be closing five coal plants in Virginia, West Virginia, and Ohio adding up to about 25% of its total capacity. And it attributed the closure to the cost of EPA regulations.

Cue the noise machine on the "job-killing EPA." The Bluefield, West Virginia Daily Telegraph editorial could have been written by AEP executives: "One must look no further than last week’s stunning announcement from American Electric Power for further proof of the out-of-control, job-killing agenda of the federal Environmental Protection Agency."

The only problem: it's not true.

AEP has pitched two different reasons in the space of one week for the demise of the Picway plant, one of the five coal plants to be shuttered, near Columbus, Ohio. This plant was built in 1955 and, according to AEP's June 9 press release, generates 100 megawatts of electricity per year. However, just one week before, on June 2, AEP announced that it would shutter Picway nine months per year as a cost-saving measure:

Pat Hemlepp, an AEP spokesman, said the national recession lowered demand for electricity, making the generators too expensive to run year-round.

The company wouldn't say how much it expects to save. Hemlepp said the company will try to shift affected plant workers to jobs that other employees left when AEP offered early-retirement buyouts in April.

In short: AEP was going to close the plant anyway to save itself money, and the jobs have already been shifted elsewhere in AEP, not killed. This dinosaur plant has been dying of old age and obsolescence, not killed by the EPA.

The Picway plant is located in Lockbourne (pop. 280), Franklin County, Ohio. That county has 1,614 asthma attacks per year attributable to power plant fine particle pollution.

AEP is playing a similar game at the Glen Lyn power plant in Virginia, a plant in its 90th year of operations and officially generating 335 megawatts of electricity. On June 9, 2011, Glen Lyn was among those being closed due to the "unrealistic compliance timelines in the EPA proposals." However, on May 12, 2010, AEP placed the plant on standby status as "another move by AEP to cut operating costs to adjust to recession-related drops in electricity usage, especially among industrial and commercial customers."

Glen Lyn's fly ash ponds release contaminated water into the New River, although the amount of contamination is unknown because Virginia's water records are less than adequate, according to the Sierra Club (p. 218 of pdf).

The Philip Sporn plant, located in West Virginia, likewise was slated to be retired by AEP in 2010 because it was projected to lose money in 2011 and 2012.

The remaining two plants to be closed - Kammer and Kanawha River, both in West Virginia - are likewise inefficient 1950s-era plants. In 2007, AEP entered into a consent decree with the EPA that affected all five of the plants now to be closed.

The EPA responds to AEP:

“Utilities have known for decades that these standards — which are still in the proposal stage and have a built-in 3-year-compliance timeline, have been coming for decades,” according to the e-mail. “They also know that they are free to approach EPA with serious, fact-based compliance plans, and that state governments also have the ability under the law to seek more time for the plants in their jurisdictions."

In short: AEP has a number of dirty, old dinosaur coal plants. A Bush-era consent decree required it to retrofit or retire the worst of the bunch. It's been losing money. However, rather than meekly admit obsolescence, AEP is choosing to play political hardball and blame the EPA for its business decisions. The Center for American Progress sees through AEP's dirty trick.

The Jurassic-era carboniferous forests that became coal, and the dinosaurs that roamed them, are long since gone, and now coal itself is becoming obsolete. AEP finds it convenient to blame EPA, but it can't attribute "job-killing EPA regulations" to a decision by a French utility to close its five least-profitable coal plants. AEP can choose to invest in clean renewable energy, or follow the dinosaurs.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Shades of health insurance (12+ / 0-)

    Where every rate increase is blamed on the ACA.

    If lying through your teeth cost corporations money it would be a very different world.

    In theory, there is no difference between theory and practice; but in practice, there always is a difference. - Yogi Berra

    by blue aardvark on Mon Jun 13, 2011 at 11:28:00 AM PDT

  •  Endangered species... (9+ / 0-)


    Democracy is the most fundamental revolutionary principle. Information is the ultimate key.

    by Radical def on Mon Jun 13, 2011 at 11:36:12 AM PDT

  •  Those plants are likely maybe 2.5% of AEP's (5+ / 0-)

    capacity, not 25%.  Picway also has a natural gas fired generator which in recent years was only used to fulfill peak loads during summer air conditioning season.

    Twenty-five per cent just doesn't make sense.

    Republicans are like alligators. All mouth and no ears.

    by Ohiodem1 on Mon Jun 13, 2011 at 12:03:52 PM PDT

    •  AEP is also retiring certain (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      gravlax, Ohiodem1, RunawayRose

      stations at 6 more power plants - check the press release for details. If, after reading that, you still think AEP's math is suspect, please reply - I'd be very interested given its veracity on other points. Thx.

      Join/follow Climate Hawks and Public Lands; @RL_Miller

      by RLMiller on Mon Jun 13, 2011 at 12:09:26 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Reading the entire press release, what they (3+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        gravlax, RunawayRose, RLMiller

        say may be true, but it also appears to be a politically motivated shot across the bow of the US and various state EPA's and they appear to be mapping out a negotiating position.  The Kasich administration is trying to evicerate the Ohio EPA and make it toothless and irrelevant.  Kasich stated a goal to make the pending EPA applications at any single time be less than 4, down from over 800 when he took office, a reduction of 99.5 per cent.  Of course the only way to do that is to pencil-whip every application, and make it legal in some sense to externalize their externalities.  The past practices of US environmental legislation and rule-making was to get companies to internalize their externalities, meaning take the steps necessary to prevent the pollution of the air and water, and not poison their customers and neighbors.

        If they really want to cut that much capacity a couple of thoughts come to mind.  First, if capacity is cut with on reduction in demand, then prices must rise to match the demand and to ration the energy by the pricing mechanism.

        A second dynamic may also be in play here.  It is possible that their long-term planners have seen that due to economic factors, conservation and changing to more efficient facilities, wind, solar and hydroelectric power may be coming on line to balance out the reduced coal-fired capacity.  Finally, they may have found more sources for purchasing power from grid partners, and can do without this capacity.

        Just as American oil companies have gotten by just very well by not adding any new refineries in 35 years, the electric power generation business may see the same kind of opportunity to make less power and sell what remains for more money.

        Bottom line, it looks to me like they are looking for the Republicans to come riding in on a white horse and save the day by evicerating our environmental regulations to "save" all those jobs and plants, at the expense of the people who must breathe the air they pollute.

        Republicans are like alligators. All mouth and no ears.

        by Ohiodem1 on Mon Jun 13, 2011 at 02:19:13 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

  •  If energy efficiency and renewables work (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    RLMiller, gravlax, RunawayRose

    then we should be seeing more and more of this -- old inefficient plants losing their economic viability.

    The non-existent "light bulb ban" has received similar cries of JOB KILLER! It's so funny because any time someone laments the loss of jobs due to overseas competition, a typical right-wing response comes in the form of the candlemaker's petition. But here they are basically taking the position of the candle makers trying to block unfair competition from technology!

    "We are stardust, we are golden, we are caught in the devil's bargain, and we got to get ourselves back to the garden." - Joni Mitchell

    by shaggies2009 on Mon Jun 13, 2011 at 12:12:49 PM PDT

  •  The truth doesn't suit their ideology of getting (4+ / 0-)

    rid of the EPA and regulations.  We want our dirty skies back.  Just ask the people who are getting smoke blown in their faces in the AZ fires and can't breath.

    I am the fellow citizen of every being that thinks; my country is Truth. ~Alphonse de Lamartine, "Marseillaise of Peace," 1841

    by notdarkyet on Mon Jun 13, 2011 at 01:00:41 PM PDT

  •  One of the key words in their press release is (4+ / 0-)

    "prematurely"... as in

    because of the unrealistic compliance timelines in the EPA proposals, we will have to prematurely shut down nearly 25 percent of our current coal-fueled generating capacity, cut hundreds of good power plant jobs, and invest billions of dollars in capital to retire, retrofit and replace coal-fueled power plants.

    which (to me) implies that they knew this was going to happen or have to happen at some point, but had been kicking the coal car down the road as long as they could.

    I'd even be willing to bet that some of the costs for these "premature" actions have already been approved and buried in consumers' bills for some time.

    It's not like they don't bill retroactively for future rates.

    Gingrich, I've thought long and hard about this. Your Delta Tau Chi name is... "Flounder."

    by here4tehbeer on Mon Jun 13, 2011 at 02:32:53 PM PDT

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