FirstEnergy looks at co-firing gas at five coal plants

FirstEnergy Corp. (NYSE: FE) is looking at options to co-fire natural gas and coal at five of its coal-fired power plants, including Mansfield and Mitchell in Pennsylvania, to reduce air emissions.

A FirstEnergy spokesman on Oct. 8 confirmed the basic details of a story on this planning that appeared Oct. 5 in the Pittsburgh Business Times.

The decision on these co-firing projects will depend on factors like proximity to a natural gas pipeline, the price of gas and the cost of equipment upgrades. The first decision would likely be made in 2014 for Hatfield’s Ferry in Pennsylvania, the story said. The other four plants under consideration for gas co-firing are Mansfield and Mitchell in Pennsylvania, plus Pleasants and Harrison in northern West Virginia.

Hatfield’s Ferry is near a major natural gas pipeline of Texas Eastern Transmission, which is why FirstEnergy has focused on this plant first, the story noted, quoting a FirstEnergy official. Also, the plant’s boilers need to be replaced in the coming years. Any new equipment would likely allow 25% to 40% of the plant’s fuel to be gas.

FirstEnergy said it would be unlikely to go through with the co-firing projects if gas prices go much above $3/mmBtu.

Here is a description of the five plants in question.

  • Mansfield, located in Shippingport, Pa., along the Ohio River, is the largest power plant in Pennsylvania. Owned and operated by FirstEnergy Generation Corp., the plant’s three units produce 2,490 MW, said the FirstEnergy website. It normally burns about 7 million tons of coal per year. It already has SO2 scrubbers, particulate control devices and selective catalytic reduction (SCR) equipment to remove NOx.
  • Mitchell, located on the Monongahela River at Courtney, Pa., has one existing coal-fired unit and one oil-fired unit that produce a combined total of 370 MW. Coal-fired Unit 3 went online in 1963 and generates 288 MW. The plant uses more than 430,000 tons of coal annually. The company has invested nearly $130m on its environmental-control systems, including electrostatic precipitators for particulate control.
  • Hatfield’s Ferry, located on the Monongahela River at Masontown, Pa., has three coal-fired units that produce 1,710 MW. The plant uses nearly 4 million tons of coal annually. The company has invested nearly $1bn on its environmental controls, including scrubbers for all three units finished in 2009, and electrostatic precipitators, the company website said.
  • Pleasants, located at Willow Island, W.Va., on the Ohio River, has two coal-fired units that produce 1,300 MW. The plant uses more than 3.4 million tons of coal annually. The company has invested nearly $650m on its environmental controls. Scrubbers were installed when the plant was built in the late 1970s, but were upgraded in 2007. It is also equipped with SCR.
  • Harrison, which is inland in Harrison County, W.Va., and takes truck deliveries of coal, has three coal-fired units that produce 1,983 MW and went online in the early to mid 1970s. The plant uses more than 5 million tons of coal annually. The company has invested nearly $1bn on its environmental-control systems. All three units got scrubbers in the mid 1990s to comply with Phase 1 of the 1990 Clean Air Act. All three units are also equipped with SCR.

Any displacement of coal at these plants by gas would certainly be bad news for the coal industry, but not as bad as shutting the plants, which is something that FirstEnergy and other power producers are doing around the U.S. with various other coal plants to meet new federal emissions standards.

About Barry Cassell 20414 Articles
Barry Cassell is Chief Analyst for GenerationHub covering coal and emission controls issues, projects and policy. He has covered the coal and power generation industry for more than 24 years, beginning in November 2011 at GenerationHub and prior to that as editor of SNL Energy’s Coal Report. He was formerly with Coal Outlook for 15 years as the publication’s editor and contributing writer, and prior to that he was editor of Coal & Synfuels Technology and associate editor of The Energy Report. He has a bachelor’s degree from Central Michigan University.