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Energy: Buyers needed to keep power plants alive

Unwelcome news takes an even heavier toll when we learn it will cost hundreds of jobs in our region and put more pressure on our nation’s energy grid. That was the case this week when we learned Energy Harbor, owner of the W.H. Sammis Power Plant in Stratton, Ohio, and Willow Island in Pleasants County, said it will close Sammis next summer and shutter units at Willow Island, unless both can be sold. The move would retire 3,074 megawatts of coal-generated electricity.

That kind of energy is enough to power about 1.5 million homes per year. It nearly matches the 3,100 megawatts of electricity generated by all the wind farms operational in West Virginia, Ohio and Pennsylvania in 2021, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

Energy Harbor’s goal is to be carbon-free in its energy generation. Outside of Sammis and Willow Island, the company operates four nuclear power plants in Ohio and Pennsylvania.

“Retiring the fossil fueled plants is a difficult but necessary strategic business decision critical to the continued transformation of our company,” said David Hamilton, executive vice president, COO and chief nuclear officer at Energy Harbor.

U.S. Rep. Bill Johnson, R-Ohio, is concerned about the pressure this will place on the nation’s energy grid. He said a buyer needs to step forward soon, as the plants continue to operate within federal emissions guidelines and provide for hundreds of families.

“Whether some people like it or not, coal is still a very important component of our national base-load energy supply,” Johnson said. “The world has now seen the dangers of ‘rushing to green’ like so many European nations did only to realize that weather dependent, renewable fuels alone cannot power an economy.”

Johnson is right.

While coal’s share of the nation’s power base has dropped, it still accounts for nearly 22% of all domestic electricity generation. Removing more than 3,000 megawatts of generation without a plan to replace it seems irresponsible. But perhaps there is hope.

While Energy Harbor’s decision is a move toward its own goal to be carbon-free, a buyer could step forward. Our region has suffered decades of erosion of its industrial base. There is an opportunity here for a buyer to do the right thing, both for our region’s economy and energy security for our nation as a whole.

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