Coal, Executive Insight, T&D, Transmission

In Ohio, as coal retirements near, transmission proposals come in

by Rosy Lum, TransmissionHub

As the megawatts of coal-fired generation to be retired in Ohio pile up, electric transmission project proposals have increased.

The Ohio Power Siting Board (OPSB) has 29 active electric transmission certificate cases before it, representing $427.2 million of investment, according to a presentation that Public Utilities of Ohio Commissioner Todd Snitchler submitted to the House Public Utilities Committee on Oct. 2.

“We have seen an uptick in transmission applications,” said Matthew Butler, public outreach officer for the OPSB. “The trend has been for more transmission as a means to get power to where it needs to be, given some of the pending coal-fired generation retirements’ coming up across the state.”

Some 4,897 MW of coal-fired generation is expected to be retired in Ohio between 2013 and 2015, or 14.5 percent of the 33,830 MW expected to be retired nationwide during that period, according to GenerationHub data. 

By contrast, 2,350 MW of new generation is planned in Ohio for 2013-2015. No coal plants are scheduled to be retired after 2015, according to GenerationHub.

“We’ve seen some activity for new generation projects, and that’s been both gas-fired and wind power,” Butler said, adding that wind proposals have been in response to the state’s renewable portfolio standard, not to coal retirements.

The OPSB on May 1 certified the 799-MW natural gas combined-cycle Oregon Clean Energy Center near Toledo, Ohio. The project is scheduled to enter service in 2016.

“We’ll soon be looking at a project in east central Ohio for another gas-fired project, and that’s going to be a 700-MW project,” Butler said.

Carroll County Energy on Aug. 7 filed a pre-application notice with the OPSB that it plans to build a 742-MW gas-fired combined-cycle power plant in Carroll County.

“Those (projects) have both come largely in response to some of the generation retirements that have been announced,” Butler said.

Generation retirements on a national basis will hit a peak in 2015, the initial deadline for compliance with the Mercury and Air Toxics Standard (MATS), the EPA’s rule for reducing pollution from coal- and oil-fired power plants. By the end of 2017, more than 40,500 MW of coal-fired generation will be retired, according to GenerationHub.

Most transmission projects proposed to bridge the generation gap in Ohio are from the utilities, primarily FirstEnergy, American Electric Power and, to a lesser extent, Duke Energy, Butler said.

“We’re not really seeing any merchant transmission right now,” he said.

Among the projects FirstEnergy’s transmission arm, subsidiary American Transmission Systems Inc., has proposed is the $151 million Glenwillow–Bruce Mansfield project, a 110-mile, 345-kV line from Pennsylvania to Ohio that has an in-service date of 2015. The OPSB has approved the project.

Other proposals include the East Springfield-London-Tangy line, Beaver to Brownhelm Junction, Geauga County, Black River and Hayes-West Fremont projects, which, together with Glenwillow-Bruce Mansfield, represent more than $230 million of investment, according to TransmissionHub data. With the exception of the Hayes-West Fremont project, which is in the pre-application process, all of these projects have been approved, according to the OPSB’s website.

“The theme that runs through a lot of these projects is they need to be operational by spring 2015 because that’s when the MATS regulations kick in,” a spokesperson for FirstEnergy told TransmissionHub.

FirstEnergy has reliability must-run arrangements on three of its coal-fired plants — Ashtabula, Eastlake and Lake Shore — but those expire in early 2015.

“The whole idea (is) to get those transmission lines operational by the time those reliability must-run arrangements expire,” the spokesperson said.

Among the projects American Electric Power subsidiary AEP Ohio Transmission Co. has proposed are the Elk and Trent-Vassell transmission lines, which the OPSB has approved, and the Biers Run-Circleville and Biers Run-Hopetown-Delano transmission lines, which are in the pre-application stage. Altogether, these lines represent more than $60 million of investment.

In June 2012, Ohio Gov. John Kasich passed legislation (S.B. 315) to establish regulations for shale exploitation, which contained language that allows the OPSB to expedite the approval process for electric transmission projects that address needs arising from coal retirements. For qualifying transmission facilities, the OPSB must render a decision within 90 days of receiving all necessary information from the project developer.

For an electric transmission line to qualify for accelerated review, it must be:

  • No more than 2 miles long
  • Primarily needed to attract or meet the requirements of a specific customer or specific customers
  • Necessary to maintain reliable electric service as a result of the retirement or shutdown of an electric generating facility in the state
  • A rebuilding of an existing transmission line

This article was modified at 1:53 pm on Oct. 8, 2013, to reflect that all of FirstEnergy’s plants that have reliability must-run agreements are coal-fired.