FirstEnergy Corp. says it will close by Sept. 1 the three oldest and most-polluting units at its Bay Shore power plant in Oregon. It's time.
Bay Shore is not primarily a victim of new anti-pollution rules, as the utility asserts. Instead, its poor planning and lack of vision date to 1955, when the largely coal-fired plant opened.
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The plant provided decades of stable local employment, but too often at the expense of Ohio's greatest natural asset, Lake Erie. Although the closures will cost 80 of Bay Shore's 153 remaining employees their jobs, FirstEnergy says 57 of them qualify for the company's most-generous severance package.
Last year, the Obama Administration imposed a new rule on mercury emissions, a long-overdue measure that, FirstEnergy says, doomed Bay Shore because of enormous compliance costs. The utility also is closing five other small and mid-sized facilities; with Bay Shore, they generate 10 percent of the company's energy and are used mostly on a seasonal basis.
Bay Shore's problems began with its site in the Great Lakes region's most productive area for spawning fish -- a narrow intake canal where the Maumee River meets Lake Erie's Maumee Bay. Built before modern anti-pollution laws took effect in the 1970s, Bay Shore killed 46 million adult and 14 million juvenile fish annually for years -- more than all other Ohio power plants combined.
That was lethal to the Great Lakes region's $7 billion fishery, which generates $1 billion a year for Ohio's economy. Despite protests by elected officials, regulators, and scientists, FirstEnergy never solved Bay Shore's fish-kill problem.
Pressure by the federal government grew after a U.S. Supreme Court decision in 2004 that required drastic reductions in fish kills at the nation's 550 largest power plants. FirstEnergy executives said they couldn't justify spending $100 million on the ideal solution: a cooling tower that would have reduced fish deaths at Bay Shore by 95 percent.
After Bay Shore closes all but one of its operating units, the plant likely will require far less than its current daily withdrawal of 650 million gallons of Maumee River water during peak operations. That would presumably save more fish.
It isn't clear whether FirstEnergy will finish installing panels known as reverse louvers to serve as a fish barrier. Although the utility has negotiated a deal with the state to do that, the technology has not been used at power plants and has yielded mixed results at dams.
Bay Shore's remaining unit has a less-polluting boiler that can burn petroleum coke from the nearby BP refinery. The coal-fired units that are slated to close don't have that option.
Bay Shore has operated on borrowed time for years. No single policy is responsible for the closures there. Advances in science and technology, and a greater understanding of how pollution affects public health, also have contributed.
Utilities such as FirstEnergy must embrace those advances, or wait for their aging facilities to be replaced by cleaner sources of energy.
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