August 22, 2014

Elyria
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GenOn power plant in Avon Lake to remain open, officials say

AVON LAKE — Just over a month after local officials said odds of keeping the former GenOn power plant open past its scheduled April 2015 shutdown were remote at best, the plant’s new owners have announced the facility will remain in operation.

Avon lake Mayor Greg Zilka confirmed today that NRG Energy, which acquired the plant earlier this year, apparently will keep the plant open to generate electricity by converting from a coal-fired to natural gas operation.

“They are apparently making the investment because they feel it is one under which they will get their money back (in a relatively short period of time),” Zilka said.

The apparent reversal of the plant’s fate was made during an early morning online press conference by NRG.

“Right in the middle of this very complicated financial update of the status of the company, they made a number of references to several plants that will now stay open or be re-opened,” Zilka said.

“They made specific reference to Avon Lake and a plant in New Castle, Pa.,” Zilka said. “This is big news for us although we’re taking a cautiously optimistic approach to it.”

A number of approvals would have to come from various state agencies including the EPA, and possibly even federal agencies before the plant could proceed under the newly-announced coal-to-natural gas generation plan, Zilka said.

NRG spokesman David Gaier had not been reached for comment as of mid-afternoon.

Zilka did say today’s initial word of plans by NRG to keep the Avon Lake plant open would lead to the facility “producing less electricity than what it did before.”

“It would serve as more of a back-up or support plant instead of a trunk (or main) plant,” Zilka said.

“That in itself suggests property and utility tax revenues will be less than in the past,” Zilka said. “But its’ certainly better than closing it down.”

NRG Energy, which has principal corporate offices in Houston and Princeton, N.J., recently acquired the Houston-based GenOn Energy Inc. in a $1.7 billion stock deal which created the nation’s biggest independent power producer.

NRG has a history of investing in solar and wind energy, Zilka said.

“They seem to be a bit more progressive in that regard,” Zilka said. “They seem to have a green profile as one of their goals.”

“This is something very desirable for them and for the community,” Zilka said.

“They (NRG) have made a commitment to this but details are sketchy at this point,” Zilka said.

Avon Lake Schools Superintendent Robert Scott was not reached fro comment.

When GenOn announced in February 2012 its plans to close the plant by April 2015 rather than spend hundreds of millions of dollars to comply with stricter federal EPA regulations, local officials braced for a heavy hit in tax revenue.

The brunt of tax revenue goes to the school district, which was expected to lose as much as $4 million in property tax and utility tax revenue, which amounts to more than 10 percent of the schools’ budget.

The city was expected to lose far less tax money.