In a huge win for clean air and public health, First Energy (Akron OH) announced on January 26 that the company will retire six of its dirtiest coal-fired power plants. These plants, located in Pennsylvania, Maryland and Ohio, will stop burning coal by September 1, 2012. The Pennsylvania plant is in Adrian on the banks of the Allegheny River north of Kittanning in Armstrong County.
“Above all, this is a win for public health and for families who have been breathing polluted air from these outdated plants,” said Bruce Nilles, Senior Director of the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal campaign. “Today’s news is part of a national trend of clean energy replacing coal. The writing is on the wall for the coal industry. With the cost of coal rising and clean energy prices plummeting, coal’s market share is shrinking fast.”
Closure of the six plants will prevent more than 174 premature deaths, 282 heart attacks, 2,677 asthma attacks, and 136 asthma emergency room visits, according to data from the Clean Air Task Force.
Over the past few years, the Sierra Club has been working in Pennsylvania with local citizens and groups including Environmental Integrity Project and Earthjustice to persuade First Energy to phase out its coal plants and to invest instead in clean energy sources like energy efficiency, wind and solar.
“This is a true victory in the fight for clean air and the move to clean energy. Hats off to the local residents and environmental groups who helped make this happen and to First Energy for making a long overdue decision. This is a milestone step in the effort to reduce the release of toxins into Pennsylvania’s air and waterways,” said Roni Kampmeyer, Coal Chair of the Executive Committee of Sierra Club’s Allegheny Group.
A new report released January 23 by the U.S. Energy Information Administration highlighted a predicted drop in coal’s market share, from 44 to 39 percent, between 2010 and 2035. The EIA reports traditionally underestimate coal’s decline, and the First Energy decision seems to suggest an even steeper drop for coal power in the United States. The EIA report also predicted that no new coal plants would be constructed in this period, aside from those already under construction.
The retirement announcement coincided with the announcement of a new wind farm to be built in Ebensburg, PA, some sixty miles from the Armstrong Power Station. “With the retirement of the Armstrong Power Station, Pennsylvania families can breathe easier,” said Randy Francisco, Organizing Representative with the Beyond Coal Campaign in Pennsylvania. “At the same time, clean energy will put people back to work in good jobs in an industry that won’t pollute our air and water.”
The Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal campaign works in partnership with Bloomberg Philanthropies and a nationwide coalition of allies to retire one-third of the nation’s aging coal plants by 2020, replacing them with clean energy like wind and solar by 2030.
“This is a great development for the Beyond Coal Campaign,” said Mayor Michael Bloomberg. “We are clearly witnessing the end of our dependency on coal and the move toward a cleaner energy future. As importantly, we are helping to provide cleaner water and cleaner air to communities and our citizens across the nation.”
Coal plants are the largest sources of climate disruption and toxic air pollution like mercury, soot and carbon pollution. These six plants bring the tally of coal plant retirements to 93 since the Sierra Club began its Beyond Coal campaign in 2002.