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Published: Friday, 8/3/2001

Standby plants help fill area electricity demand

BY JON CHAVEZ
BLADE BUSINESS WRITER

Despite a recent heatwave and a new record demand for electricity, the owner of Toledo Edison has had only one problem this year supplying enough power to northwest Ohio, thanks in part of use of new standby-power plants.

The parent of the primary local utility, FirstEnergy Corp. of Akron, has managed the high demand days this summer by buying power from outside suppliers when necessary and by temporarily boosting its electricity generation with its standby plants.

For the first time this year, FirstEnergy has added to its power generation by using its new standby gas-fired plants, which are expensive to run and are allowed by regulators to operate only a few number of days each year. As a result, they are used only during peak demand periods. Three units near Defiance can produce 390 megawatts while five units near Lorain, Ohio, can produce 424 megawatts.

However, FirstEnergy invoked its right to reduce power to some businesses one day last week when demand was so high it couldn't produce enough electricity and either couldn't buy it from elsewhere or found it too expensive to buy it.

Ellen Raines, a spokesman for FirstEnergy, said the utility hasn't come close to the 1998 situation when regional power plant shutdowns and prolonged heat that prompted enough air conditioner and business use pushed demand far in excess of supply and much of Ohio experienced a power shortage.

Still, the power reduction move last week came because the company set a peak output record of 12,979 megawatts, virtually the same amount as all of FirstEnergy's plants are capable of producing.

One business affected 11 days ago with a power interruption - which Toledo Edison can do in emergencies because the business in turn is allowed to pay a lower electric rate - was Worthington Steel, Inc., near Delta.

``It was an economic emergency, and that means we have to buy power available at whatever price they ask. We can either buy though or shutdown,'' said Dave Kleimeyer, Worthington operations manager. The plant elected to buy power from another supplier to keep operating, for which it paid about twice the normal rate, he said.

Next door, North Star/BHP Steel minimill also decided to keep operating July 24, and it paid three times its usual rate to keep operating and extra six hours, said Jim Jonasen, plant president.

``Actually, it was borderline for us whether it was economical to keep running or not based on our current status of delivery to customers,” he explained. “However, we felt we needed to keep operating to satisfy our customer's orders.''

FirstEnergy has bought power at times this summer, and sold some at other times. For competitive reasons, it doesn't indicate when it is doing so. Whether it buys power is usually determined by the cost on the spot market, and if the price is too high, the company instead would exercise its interruptible contracts, Ms. Raines explained.

The standby units are not being used to generate extra power to be sold on the open market or to competitors, Ms. Raines said. One reason is the cost -the units cost about $60 to generate a megawatt hour - and another is the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency restrict how much emissions the plants can have each year, which essentially curbs the operating time to just weeks annually.

Declining to say how many days its standby plants can run, Ms. Raines said, ``What I was told is they can only run a fraction of the year, only during the summer months and a handful of days. They have a very limited use.''

Other companies have such standby plants operating or planned in northwest Ohio.



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