Gas to Power New AMP Plant

Holly Roney and Elise Shulman-Reed

The lights in Ohio might soon start to get a little greener. On Nov. 25, American Municipal Power announced that it would be converting its American Municipal Power Generating Station project from a pulverized coal facility to a natural gas combined-cycle facility.

As stated in AMP’s press release, the project, which involved 81 communities in Michigan, Ohio, Virginia and West Virginia, was terminated after November cal- culations found that the project would see a 37 percent increase in price. Although environmental activists have been against the coal plant since the project was first announced six years ago, AMP executives have said this was not the cause of its decision. The AMPGS project would have been the second AMP coal-fired plant in Ohio.

“AMP has always firmly stated that we would recommend halting the project if the economics did not favor our participating communities, and a 37 percent target price increase was not acceptable,” said CEO Marc Gerken in November’s press release.

The city of Oberlin, a member of AMP, was not among the 81 communities participating in this project, as decided in a very divisive vote two years ago. However, this new decision by the company may change things. Though the natural gas facility will be smaller than the proposed coal facility, natural gas is a cleaner energy source than coal, and Oberlin may belatedly decide to participate in the project.

“It is likely that in order to participate in that gas plant, first dibs will be given to the communities that already paid so much money. If there’s any capacity left, it could be marketed to us,” said Chairman of the Public Utilities Committee and newly-elected City Councilmember Bryan Burgess. “As a component of our portfolio, I wouldn’t be entirely opposed to taking some small percentage of natural gas-fired electricity. Now, with that said, I’m not even entirely sure if the offer will be made to us.”

Burgess also added that AMP’s track record has “instilled no confidence in me that they are able to fulfill any project that they set their minds to.”

David Orr, Oberlin Paul Sears Distinguished Professor of environmental studies and politics and sus- tainability special assistant to the President of Oberlin College, said, “I don’t think we should participate until we know what our other options are. We do not know how much demand we could eliminate by a thorough effort to improve our efficiency to levels technically possible and economically advantageous.”

The biggest effect this change will have on Oberlin, according to Environmental Studies Associate Professor and Program Director John Petersen, may be making the market for alternative energy sources more competitive now that the communities that participated in the project can no longer depend on the coal plant for electricity. Oberlin will no longer be one of the only communities seeking alternatives to coal power.

According to Burgess, Oberlin currently gets about 20 percent of its energy from renewable energy sources and 80 percent of its energy from coal. However, the Richard H. Gorsuch Generating Station, a coal-fired generating facility from which Oberlin has been getting its energy since the 1980s, will be decommissioned sometime in the next three years. According to the AMP-Ohio website, the plant will be shut down when AMPGS goes online, but Burgess has put the date for the shutdown at the end of 2012.

“The decommissioning of that plant is the impetus of everything we’re doing right now. We absolutely have to find some replacement for that power. That’s our deadline, the end of Dec. 31, 2012,” said Burgess.

Oberlin City Council President David Sonner said, “More and more people are becoming aware of how much of an environmental and economic disaster the use of coal is.”

Sonner commented that with the “dwindling supply of coal, the increased cost of coal, the atmospheric poisoning that comes from the use of coal, [and] the destruction of landscapes,” people are beginning to look into alternative forms of energy. Ideas such as increasing the amount of energy obtained by landfill gas, hydroelectricity or using a wood-fire boiler are all being considered.

The decisions that the city of Oberlin makes will also have a profound impact on the College and its ability to achieve carbon neutrality.

Burgess said that administrators at Oberlin College “are committed to carbon neutrality, but since they’re not leaving Oberlin, and since by law they can only purchase electricity from the city, then the city better get on board with carbon neutrality, or they will never meet their goals. We can only do this together.”