July 2, 2016

Mostly clear

Avon Lake mayor calls plant switchover to gas ‘unlikely’

AVON LAKE — City officials have held conversations with officials of the firm that owns the Genon power plant on Lake Road about prospects of the facility continuing to operate after an announced April 15, 2015, shutdown, but chances of that happening appear remote at best.

Mayor Greg Zilka acknowledged rumors have been circulating that the plant might remain open after the shutdown date because of a possible switchover from coal to natural gas, but he said discussions with Mark Baird, a former director of external affairs for Genon who is now in charge of NRG Energy’s government affairs, have not produced any positive results.

NRG Energy recently purchased the Houston, Texas-based Genon Energy Inc. in a $1.7 billion stock deal that created the nation’s biggest independent power producer.

The April 2015 closing date coincides with the date by which such facilities must meet new mercury emissions standards recommended by the federal Environmental Protection Agency, Zilka said.

Converting to natural gas would avoid the emissions problem, Zilka said, “but that gets us back to where do we get the natural gas in sufficient volume to operate a power plant?”

A report issued in June 2012 by the environmental watchdog group Natural Resources Defense Council said the 732-megawatt plant had the seventh-highest mercury emissions in Ohio and was Lorain County’s top air polluter in 2010, emitting 2.4 million metric tons of greenhouse gases.

“We were told (by NRG) there is not enough natural gas infrastructure to accomplish that,” Zilka said.

Avon Lake Schools Superintendent Bob Scott said he’s been told the same thing.

“They would have to retrofit the plant to have a gas turbine, and it would probably be years before gas lines could be extended, if at all,” he said. “It comes down to a capacity issue. It takes a lot of coal to run the plant right now, and it would take a lot of gas to run it at the same levels.”

David Gaier, NRG director of communications, declined comment about ongoing discussions between the city and company in an emailed response.

After 2015, a small oil-powered generator is expected to continue in operation after the plant closes, Zilka said.

Baird previously confirmed plans to retain a small number of workers to operate non-coal fuel units at the plant, which employs roughly 80 people.

“We’ve been very active in pursuing every avenue to keep the plant going well beyond 2015,” Zilka said.

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

About Steve Fogarty

Steve Fogarty has been with the Chronicle-Telegram since 1978. He primarily covers North Ridgeville. He can be reached at 329-7146 or sfogarty@chroniclet.com..