100 jobs to vanish at power plant

American Electric Power’s Muskingum River Power Plant Unit 5 will stop burning coal by 2015, effectively idling more than 100 jobs at the facility overlooking the Muskingum River just north of Beverly.

The local plant is one of three AEP facilities slated to end coal-burning operations by mid-2015, after the company finalized a legal settlement Friday with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, eight states and 13 citizen environmental groups.

The other plants to cease coal operations include the Tanners Creek Generating Station Unit 4 in Indiana and Big Sandy Power Plant Unit 2 in Kentucky.

AEP spokeswoman Melissa McHenry said there are currently 105 employees at the local Muskingum River plant, down from around 128 in June 2011 when the company first announced the facility was on a list of units to be retired by 2015.

“Some employees have retired or found other positions since that time,” she said. “And re-fueling the unit with natural gas would require only a few employees for operations.”

McHenry noted the possibility still exists that a portion of the Muskingum River plant could be converted to burn natural gas, but a decision has not been made, and will likely depend on what economies the company can obtain if it chooses to go that route.

Beverly Mayor Rex Kenyon said the news was not totally unexpected as EPA regulations have grown ever tighter on coal-burning facilities across the nation.

“This will impact our community. The local plant employs 100-some workers who shop, buy gas, and eat at restaurants in the Beverly area,” he said. “And as for taxes, the village stands to lose about $9,000 worth of income tax.”

Kenyon said oil and gas companies are gradually moving into the area and will be hiring workers, but many of the AEP jobs are high-paying positions that won’t be replaced.

“The U.S. was built on our industries, but regulations have made it difficult for industries to survive,” he said. “A lot of industry has moved overseas because they’re over-regulated here.”

In a news release from the Sierra Club in Ohio, Shannon Fisk, an attorney for Earthjustice who acted as co-counsel for the Sierra Club in the settlement, said the initiative was long overdue.

“Tanners Creek, Big Sandy, and Muskingum River are dirty and outdated plants that should have been cleaned up or retired decades ago,” she said. “We’re glad AEP is going to retire these aging dinosaurs, and urge the company to ensure an equitable transition for the workers and communities most directly impacted by these retirements.”

McHenry noted that the company had already planned to make changes agreed to in the legal settlement Friday anyway in order to meet new EPA requirements focused on reducing mercury and other toxic emissions from power plants.

Part of the agreement reached Friday includes a commitment from AEP to develop 50 megawatts of wind or solar power this year, and an additional 150 megawatts of wind or solar power in Indiana or Michigan by 2015, according to the Sierra Club release.