Major Victory for Clean Air: First Energy to Retire Six Coal Plants

Utility to retire six coal-fired power plants, following national trend of coal losing ground to clean energy

Cleveland, OH–(ENEWSPF)–January 26, 2012. In a huge win for clean air and public health, First Energy announced this morning that the company will retire six of its dirtiest coal-fired power plants.  These plants, located in Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Maryland, will stop burning coal by September 1, 2012.

First Energy announced that the following plants will be retired: Bay Shore Plant, Units 2-4, Oregon, Ohio; Eastlake Plant, Eastlake, Ohio; Ashtabula Plant, Ashtabula, Ohio; Lake Shore Plant, Cleveland, Ohio; Armstrong Power Station, Adrian, Pa.; and R. Paul Smith Power Station, Williamsport, Md. In total, these retirements will bring 2,689 megawatts of dirty and dangerous coal pollution to an end.

“Above all, this is a win for public health and for families who have been breathing polluted air from these outdated plants,” said Bruce Nilles, Senior Director of Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal campaign. “Today’s news is part of a national trend of clean energy replacing coal. The writing is on the wall for the coal industry. With the cost of coal rising and clean energy prices plummeting, coal’s market share is shrinking fast.”

Closure of the six plants will prevent more than 174 premature deaths, 282 heart attacks, 2,677 asthma attacks, and 136 asthma emergency room visits, according to data from the Clean Air Task Force.

Over the past few years, Sierra Club has been working with local citizens and groups including Environmental Integrity Project, Earthjustice, Environment Maryland, and Chesapeake Climate Action Network, in Maryland and Pennsylvania.  In Ohio, the Sierra Club worked closely with Ohio Citizen Action, the Western Lake Erie Waterkeepers, and the Ohio Environmental Council to persuade First Energy to phase out its coal plants and to invest instead in clean energy sources like energy efficiency, wind and solar. The Natural Resources Defense Council led Ohio groups in legal strategy to force these plants to clean up dangerous mercury pollution.

“I am proud that since 2008, the Sierra Club and our partner organizations have been actively organizing and challenging these coal plants, and working with other organizations to highlight the hazardous nature of coal-fired power plants,” said Rashay Layman, Associate Organizing Representative with the Beyond Coal Campaign in Ohio.

A report released this week by the U.S. Energy Information Administration highlighted a predicted drop in coal’s market share, from 44 to 39 percent, between 2010 and 2035. The EIA reports traditionally underestimate coal’s decline, and the First Energy decision seems to suggest an even steeper drop for coal power in the United States. The EIA report also predicted that no new coal plants would be constructed in this period, aside from those already under construction.

Ohio is already seeing the clean energy industry take hold. Earlier this week, the state approved plans for a 91-turbine wind farm that will bring up to $61 million dollars into the region.

“We want to encourage First Energy to make use of the abundant clean energy potential throughout its territory. The company can create good clean energy jobs that won’t harm public health,” said Sierra Club Ohio volunteer Dave Simons. “This victory is the first of many to come in our fight to move beyond coal and fossil fuels and into a clean energy future. The next step for First Energy is to retire their dirty West Virginia plants, Albright and Willow Island.”

The Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal campaign works in partnership with Bloomberg Philanthropies and a nationwide coalition of allies to retire one-third of the nation’s aging coal plants by 2020, replacing them with clean energy like wind and solar by 2030.

“This is a great development for the Beyond Coal Campaign,” said Mayor Michael Bloomberg.  “We are clearly witnessing the end of our dependency on coal and the move toward a cleaner energy future. As importantly, we are helping to provide cleaner water and cleaner air to communities and our citizens across the nation.”

Coal plants are the largest sources of climate disruption and toxic air pollution like mercury, soot and carbon pollution. These six plants bring the tally of coal plant retirements to 93 since the Sierra Club began its Beyond Coal campaign in 2002.