Gas is partly responsible for FirstEnergy Corp.'s decision to shut down two coal-fired power plants. But it's not the solution to the company's problems, said George Farah, vice president of fossil engineering and construction.
FirstEnergy won't be replacing these retiring coal plants with natural gas-powered units, as it has contemplated doing at Hatfield's Ferry, a 1,710 megawatt plant.
It's just not economical, Farah said.
The price of natural gas would have to be 30 percent lower than it is now, and it would have to stay that way for a long time to make the investment worthwhile, Farah said.
Actually, FirstEnergy has proposed converting a retiring coal plant to burn natural gas. Twice.
At first, the company thought it would convert the Eastlake coal plant near Cleveland to run on natural gas, but the proposed facility was passed over during a capacity auction and the utility abandoned the idea. Then, American Municipal Power said it would pick up the project, but in March told FirstEnergy it couldn't secure financing for the idea, and it, too, pulled the plug
So natural gas generation is hot right now, but not hot enough.
Farah did say that if demand were to rise, natural gas would be the most likely fuel for the next generation. He also added that with the current and future environmental regulations, the company would be hard pressed to open a coal-powered plant at any point in the future.