By LARRY RINGLER
NILES - GenOn Energy Inc.'s scheduled June closing of its Niles power generating plant is another in a string of coal-fired power plant shutterings from government regulations that likely will drive up electricity costs, Mayor Ralph Infante said Thursday.
GenOn Energy’s Niles Generating Station is closing, citing costly EPA mandates.
"It's a shame. Everyone feels the impact from the EPA mandates," Infante said, referring to tougher pollution U.S. Environmental Protection Agency limits that prompted GenOn on Wednesday to put the 40-worker Niles and seven other coal power plants on the chopping block in the next four years.
Infante said Niles raised its power rates two years ago by 1 1/2 cents per kilowatt hour after EPA mandates led to the closing of a plant that supplied Niles and other cities that belong to American Municipal Power-Ohio group.
The cities are still paying for the plant, Infante said. "We lost a lot of money on it. Hopefully, someday, they can put a stop to these EPA regulations."
Infante held out hope that another company might buy the plant and bring it up to EPA standards or convert it to natural gas, a cleaner-burning fuel that's in abundance with local shale gas drilling efforts.
The Sierra Club said in a statement that closing the plants will prevent about 179 premature deaths, 300 heart attacks and 2,800 asthma attacks each year.
"Above all, this is a win for public health and for families who have been breathing polluted air from these outdated plants," said Bruce Nilles, senior director of the Sierra Club's Beyond Coal campaign.
Nilles said building a wind farm is cheaper than building a new coal plant.
"What matters now is ensuring that GenOn does the right thing and transitions these workers into the growing clean energy sector," he said.
Upgrading the plant to EPA standards would have run in the hundreds of millions of dollars, GenOn spokesman Mark Baird wrote in an email.
He said the company generally provides severance for workers that includes cash and access to health and welfare benefits, along with job search help. Workers can apply for open jobs at other GenOn facilities, he added.
The GenOn closings, plus those announced by FirstEnergy and other power companies in recent weeks, will "likely result in electricity price increases in some parts of the country," he said.
Asked how the lost power will be replaced, Baird said electrical grid operator PJM interconnection LLC, not GenOn, is responsible for ensuring adequate power.
The Niles plant, which dates back at least to the 1950s and was a former FirstEnergy Ohio Edison plant, generates 217 megawatts of electricity.
Other plants in the general area slated to close are in New Castle, Pa., a 330 megawatt plant scheduled to close in April 2015; Avon Lake, near Cleveland, a 732-megawatt plant set to close in April 2015, and Elrama, Pa., a 460-megawatt plant in southwestern Pennsylvania, set to close in June with Niles.
The company said the timeframes for the plants, which generated a total of 3,140 megawatts, are subject to review based on market conditions.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.