FirstEnergy looking at natural gas for one plant

Source: Akron Beacon Journal

The FirstEnergy Corp. is looking at burning natural gas to produce electricity at one of its largest coal-burning power plants.

The Akron-based utility is looking at adding natural gas to coal to produce power at its Hatfield’s Ferry plant at Masontown, Pa., on the Monongahela River.

Retrofitting the plant to burn natural gas with coal will cost about $20 million for each of the plant’s three boilers or $60 million in all, said spokesman Mark Durbin.

The earliest the conversion could be accomplished is 2014, and no final decision has been made, he said.

“It’s something we’re looking at,” he said.

The plan could be scrapped if natural prices rise too high, he said.

The project may be feasible if natural gas prices remain below $3 per 1,000 cubic feet of natural gas, he said.

If the price rises above that threshold, the project could be halted, he said.

FirstEnergy is not alone in switching from coal to natural gas. Other utilities have been making the switch, especially as natural gas prices have dropped and plenty of natural gas is available from shale deposits like Ohio’s still-developing Utica shale. Natural gas is a cleaner fuel than coal.

FirstEnergy is studying the Hatfield’s Ferry plant for the switch because it is close to an existing natural gas pipeline, Durbin said.

If 40 percent of the fuel burned is natural gas, the plant would require 9 billion cubic feet of gas per hour.

The plant needs at least a 36-inch-in-diameter pipeline and building such pipelines can cost from $2 million to $5 million per mile, he said.

That means that it may be economical for FirstEnergy to add coal at the Masontown plant but not at any other of its coal-fired power plants, he said.

Building pipelines at the other plants would add ”huge costs” and likely kill any similar plans, he said.

The Hatfield’s Berry plant produces 1,710 megawatts of electricity with its three boilers, each with 570 megawatts.

A megawatt is enough electricity to power 600 to 1,000 houses.

FirstEnergy has been looking at adding natural gas to the plant’s fuel mix for about six months, he said.

The utility has burned natural gas in some of its peaking units in the past, but the Hatfield’s  Ferry project would mark the first time that FirstEnergy would burn natural gas at one of its baseload units that provide day-to-day electricity.

On Sept. 16, FirstEnergy has halted operations at its W.H. Sammis power plant at Stratton south of East Liverpool on the Ohio River because of low demand for electricity.

The 2,233-megawatt plant with its even boilers is the second largest plant operated by FirstEnergy and is the utility’s largest plant in Ohio.

In late 2010, work was completed on installing scrubbers at Sammis, a $1.8 billion project.

The plant in Jefferson County  had burned 6 million to 7 million tons of coal annually.