September 21, 2014

Elyria
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Avon Lake power plant to close in 2015

AVON LAKE — The city’s Genon power plant is scheduled to close in April 2015, according to an announcement made Wednesday by the Houston-based company.

The 732-megawatt coal-fired plant is one of eight Genon facilities set to close between June 2012 and May 2015. The closings include a 217-megawatt plant in Niles this summer, as well as four power plants in Pennsylvania.

The Avon Lake plant, which employs about 80 people, is among four slated to be shut down in April 2015. Some of those jobs will be saved, but how many isn’t known yet.

“We will be retaining a small number of positions at Avon Lake to enable continued operation of noncoal fuel units,” said Mark Baird, Genon’s director of external affairs. “We are still evaluating how many positions will be retained for the non-coal fuel operations.’’

Baird said Genon generally provides a severance package for workers whose jobs are eliminated, the details of which are determined by union contracts.

The Avon Lake plant was determined to be the county’s biggest greenhouse gas polluter in 2010, when it emitted about 2.4 million metric tons of greenhouse gas, mostly carbon dioxide, according to the federal EPA. The plant was cited by the EPA in June 2011 for what the agency said was excessive ozone emissions and for making modifications without the best available control technology.

Baird declined to provide answers to questions by phone, but indicated via email that the decision to close the plants was made based on the “capital investment required for compliance with upcoming environmental regulations, which are not economic at forecasted market conditions.”

Baird said he did not have exact numbers, but he said the cost of complying with stricter EPA regulations would be “in the hundreds of millions of dollars.”

Avon Lake Mayor Greg Zilka said he was “quite surprised” to learn of the company’s plans to shutter the plant.

Zilka said he talked with Baird after receiving the announcement, but he didn’t come away with a lot of optimism for a change of heart by the corporation, which operates 49 plants in 12 states that employ about 2,200 people.

“He told me a lot of their pressures are market-driven and that they were not as profitable as they’d like to be,” Zilka said.

Because the plant is not slated to close for three years, Zilka said he asked if that news “might be a little ray of light to do further analysis and reconsider” the decision to close.

“I was told there was a very slim chance of that happening.” Zilka said.

The mayor previously said that while the city valued Genon, officials worry “at the same time about the quality of air in Avon Lake.”

Zilka said he held out hope the plant could be saved, possibly with some sort of economic help from the state.

“The city’s financial situation is pretty tight, but we’ll try to make every effort to keep them,” Councilman Dan Bucci said. “Still, there’s only so much we can do or it becomes counterproductive (as in loss of tax revenue).”

Genon’s statement Wednesday said it had invested approximately $2.4 billion in environmental controls for the plants it will keep in operation and that it plans on making additional investments of $586 million to $726 million over the next 10 years.

Contact Steve Fogarty at 329-7146 or sfogarty@chroniclet.com.