Daily Independent (Ashland, KY)

March 1, 2013

Uncertain future

AEP's agreement with EPA bad sign for Big Sandy plant


The Independent

ASHLAND — Any lingering hopes area residents may have had about Kentucky Power Co. changing its mind about shutting down one of two coal-fired generators at its Big Sandy Plant near Louisa were dashed when American Electric Power, parent firm of Kentucky Power, made plans for the Big Sandy plant a part of an agreement reached with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, eight states and environmental groups.

Under the agreement, AEP  will stop burning coal at two of its power plants and make deeper pollution cuts at more than a dozen others. The company will retire or switch to natural gas coal-burning units at the Muskingum River power plant in Ohio and the Tanners Creek power plant in Indiana by the end of 2015.

In exchange, AEP changed the conditions of an earlier court settlement and will use equipment at the Rockport power plant in Indiana that will not reduce sulfur dioxide as much. A limit placed on 16 of its power plants in Ohio, Indiana, West Virginia, Virginia and Kentucky was also made more stringent as part of the renegotiated deal, but the company said it would have to make cuts in sulfur dioxide pollution anyway to comply with another EPA rule. 

AEP agreed last year to shut down a unit at the Big Sandy plant by the end of 2015. The power plant, one of the most stable and best-paying employers in Lawrence County, is not required to cease using coal under the new agreement, but if anything, the settlement puts the long-term future of Kentucky Power’s only plant in Kentucky on even shakier grounds. Clearly, if Kentucky Power thinks it can easily switch to natural gas at Big Sandy or can shut down the plant entirely and still have enough electricity to meet the demands of its consumers in eastern Kentucky, it will do so.

“We haven’t committed to specifically retire any unit,” said Melissa McHenry, an AEP spokeswoman.

The company also said Monday that while the cuts required are more than the initial agreement, it was planning to do them to meet a new EPA regulation aimed at reducing mercury and other air toxics from the nation’s power plants.

Environmentalists said the deal will ensure the company doesn’t change its mind. “This is the first official commitment they are making to stop burning coal at these units,” said Nachy Kanfer, a deputy director for the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal Campaign.

The states involved in the lawsuit included New York, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Maryland, New Hampshire, New Jersey, Rhode Island and Vermont. They claimed AEP’s coal-fired power plants were producing “acid rain” that was causing extensive damage to the environment in the northeast.

The handwriting is on the wall. Government and business leaders in Louisa and Lawrence County should prepare for a major downsizing of one of its biggest employers. It’s coming and there is little or nothing we can do to prevent it.