Natural gas plants gain steam in Ohio

WARREN — Coal is facing ever-growing competition from natural gas as the preferred fuel for power plants.

The trend comes as no surprise for natural gas-sector officials.

“There is an industry trend for the last decade of natural gas becoming the new standard for powering electrical generation plants,” said Neil Durbin, spokesman for Dominion Energy Ohio.

Numbers from the Ohio Department of Natural Resources show natural gas production in Ohio is on the rise.

In the first quarter of 2018, natural gas production in Ohio was up nearly 43 percent compared to the first quarter of last year.

The numbers from the state show 371,921,659 thousand cubic feet (mcf) of natural gas was produced in Ohio in the first three months of 2017 compared to 531,291,017 thousand cubic feet over the same three months in 2018.

Mike Cope, president of the Ohio Coal Association, said there are a lot of misconceptions about coal being “dirtier” than other forms of energy.

“What fossil fuel isn’t (dirty)?” said Cope. “It’s a relative thing. Each has its own disadvantages.”

Cope said the use of natural gas comes with its own risks, such as frozen pipelines. He warns that a dependence on any single source of energy is dangerous.

During the administration of President Barack Obama, Cope said 630 coal-powered facilities were closed, including 60 in Ohio. Almost as soon as a gas-powered plant opens, a coal-powered plant closes, Cope said.

It appeared earlier this year the coal industry would receive federal funds to halt closings of coal-fired plants, but those plans have been shelved for now.

In January, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission quashed a proposed U.S. Department of Energy rule that would have provided subsidies to coal and nuclear power plants. The rule was presented as a way to increase power grid resilience, but critics say the rule would have simply given coal and nuclear power plants a handout.

Cope says his industry was “extremely disappointed.”

“We realized the administration would now have to go around the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission,” Cope said. “We were happy to hear that the president (Donald Trump) is taking action on his own.”