Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Moving into the future can mean a bumpy ride

Muskingum River Power Plant

Some days are bummer days.

I just read a news story on the Marietta Times website that says American Electric Power’s Muskingum River power plant’s Unit 5 in Southern Ohio will shut down by 2015.

That means the loss of more than 100 jobs at the plant located a couple of miles north of Beverly. I went to Fort Frye High School in Beverly and know many people who did or are working at the AEP coal-burning plant that straddles the Muskingum River.

Yes, I know the nation is transitioning to cleaner fuel sources, but this news still leaves me in a melancholy mood.

View from Muskingum River

I’ve had jobs vanish in this struggling economy and know it’s hard to get work that pays a comparable salary.

I first saw the plant’s smokestack towering above the hills as the family car traveled along curvy Ohio 339 toward the back entrance into Beverly. That was 1968. Dad had a new job at the B.F. Goodrich plant in Marietta, and we were moving from Wadsworth, Ohio, near Akron down to Beverly.

Through the years the tall stack has been a welcome sight as I traveled not only on Ohio 339 but Ohio 60 down from McConnelsville.

The summer after high school graduation I played softball on a baseball field owned by AEP’s subsidiary, Ohio Power. The field lay beside the bank of the Muskingum River under the shadows of the plant.
If you didn’t park your car in the garage in the late ‘60s, you’d find a coating of coal ash on it when you went out to start it in the morning. We were breathing that into our lungs.

On some Saturdays in the mid ‘70s, I’d drive from Lancaster where I was a newspaper reporter to Beverly to visit family. The 1.5-hour trip took me past New Lexington and a nearby strip-mining operation, one of the feeder systems for the Muskingum River plant and others that depend on coal to generate electricity.

Unit 5 is shutting down by mid-2015 because AEP just inked a legal settlement with the U.S. EPA, eight states and 13 citizen environmental groups to end operation of some its oldest, dirtiest coal-burning plants. The Muskingum River plant is one of them.

Beverly, Ohio

The news isn’t unexpected in the Muskingum River Valley. Back in June 2011 the company first announced that the plant was on a list of units to be retired by 2015. It didn’t go over well with Beverly friends I’ve friended on Facebook, and many lambasted the EPA, the Obama Administration and Democrats in the Congress. They took it personally. Through the decades the power plant and a steel plant on the river were important income generators for Beverly and the sister town on the western bank of the Muskingum, Waterford.

But technological change stops for no one. The U.S. is moving toward natural gas and alternative energy like solar farms for electric generation. As part of the legal settlement, AEP has made a commitment to develop 50 megawatts of wind or solar power this year, and additional 150 megawatts by 2015.

The first four of the plant’s units were commissioned between 1953 and 1958, and are scheduled for closure by 2014. Unit 5 was built in 1968, and could be converted to natural gas, but that would probably not be economical for AEP.

As a reporter for the Duplin Times in North Carolina, I cover the Duplin County towns of Wallace and Rose Hill where I am witnessing the transition to alternate energy sources. Both towns are in the process of approving solar farms. Earlier this month the developers of the solar farm on the edge of Wallace came back with a revised conditional use permit. They had to change the footprint of their farm to move solar panels away from wetlands.

Solar farm in North Carolina

Photovoltaic power (PV) solar panels convert sunlight into electricity that can be sold to utility or private companies. A smaller number of solar farms use CSP technology that captures and concentrates the sun’s heat to create electricity. CSP systems direct solar thermal or heat energy from mirrors and lenses to a steam turbine that drives an electric turbine generator.

A solar farm is considered a utility-scale solar power plant if it is selling power to a utility, is ground-mounted and larger than 2 MW (megawatts), meaning it’s capable of powering more than 300 average homes.

Growth in North Carolina has been driven by state policy that encourages deployment along with federal incentives. Solar farm owners can receive a federal tax credit for 30 percent of the cost of the system.

Sunlight or coal? What choice would you make?


  1. If sunlight is an option, it has to be sunlight. Anyway, isn't coal captured sunlight, but dirtier?

    1. Isn't coal the remains of long-dead critters like dinosaurs?