Allegheny County’s only coal-fired power plant is set to permanently close in September.
Houston-based GenOn Holdings LLC said Thursday it plans to close Cheswick Generating Station in Springdale by Sept. 15.
The company said it also plans to close coal-fired power plants in Avon Lake, Ohio, and Newburg, Md.
In a statement, GenOn blamed the closures on “unfavorable economic conditions, higher costs including those associated with environmental compliance, an inability to compete with other generation types, and evolving market rules that promote subsidized sources.”
No power generation operations will continue at the 565-megawatt plant following its retirement, GenOn said. The Cheswick Generating Station, which is actually in Springdale, was commissioned in 1970.
GenOn will continue to provide benefits “common in this situation to all affected employees.”
“The decision to retire a power plant is always a difficult one for employees and the local communities,” GenOn CEO Dave Freysinger said. “These are not decisions taken lightly. GenOn will provide transition assistance, including advance notice, severance payments and access to health care, in accordance with our contracts and policies to all affected workers.”
State Rep. Carrie Lewis DelRosso, R-Oakmont, whose legislative district includes Springdale, said it was “heartbreaking” to learn of the closure.
She said more than 50 people will lose their jobs as a result.
DelRosso said she recently visited the site and “was quite impressed with their operations.”
She said the plant was “faced with some difficult decisions” because of Gov. Tom Wolf’s desire to begin imposing a price on greenhouse gas emissions and join the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, a consortium of Northeastern and mid-Atlantic states, in an attempt to fight climate change.
Springdale Councilman Mike Ziencik said he didn’t know what might happen with the site or what retiring the power plant might entail.
He said the closure isn’t good for the community.
“It’s never good when any business closes,” he said. “That’s not good for the people who work there or the community.”
The power plant’s ownership had changed in the past, Ziencik said. He thought it might be possible for another energy company to buy the plant and continue operations, but there has been no indication of that happening.
Ziencik acknowledged that some people who have voiced environmental concerns about the power plant likely will be glad to see it close for good.
“Everybody has their own opinions,” he said.
The environmental impact wasn’t a concern for Eli Wilson, who owns Glen’s Homemade Custard down the street from the site. When he was a child and his grandfather owned the business, Wilson said the power plant would emit dark ash that they had to clean from the shop’s exterior.
That’s not an issue now, which he takes as a positive sign that the operations are cleaner.
“I know there were steps taken years ago to make it cleaner,” he said. “I’m right next door and I see it.”
The plant’s closure is a concern for small businesses in the area, Wilson said, noting some workers at the site would get pizza at local restaurants for lunch or stop by local bars after work.
“Anytime a business leaves the area, it can have a ripple effect on small businesses in the community,” Wilson said, adding he is hopeful another business will take over at the spot.
At David’s Diner, located a few miles away, manager Lisa Speer said she was worried about the power plant’s employees.
“The sad part about it is all these people are losing their jobs,” she said.
In neighboring Cheswick, Councilman Michael Girardi said local officials were concerned about what would happen to the property adjacent to their community.
“We don’t want a large property to become dilapidated or detrimental,” he said.
Like others, Girardi said he was concerned about the loss of jobs, which would impact residents from not only Springdale but other local communities such as Cheswick.
“The loss of jobs in the area has a negative impact on small businesses in Cheswick,” he said.
While Girardi said he wasn’t happy to see the site close, he knew it was likely going to happen. As environmental regulations tighten and people become increasingly concerned about such issues, Girardi said he thought the plant’s days were likely numbered.
“I thought it would be coming some day,” he said. “I didn’t expect it to come so quickly.”
Shawn Steffee, a business agent with Boilermakers Local 154, which sends staff to the site, said that in closing the site, their union workers “just lost a plant that provides thousands of man hours over the years.”
Workers from their group, along with those in other crafts, were “constantly” getting called in to work at the plant.
“I know it’s not a giant employer, but it is a big employer for those of us in the trade,” he said. “We hate to see it go.”
Steffee said they’ll try to make up the lost man hours at other sites, but that’s not easy to do.
A main impetus for the closures, he said, comes from tightening environmental regulations like RGGI. Closing these plants, he said, is not the solution. He noted these power plants can operate in environmentally friendly ways and are difficult to replace with solely renewable resources.
“This is a direct result of environmental pressure to close our facilities,” he said. “We need to pause and think about it before we keep closing all of our plants.”
Julia Felton is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Julia at 724-226-7724, [email protected] or via Twitter .