Stricter U.S. regulations on pollution control, together with higher costs incurred in burning coal, have prompted Pennsylvania's Sunbury Generation LP, owner of one of the nation's oldest coal-fired power plants, to switch to natural gas by 2015.
Its Shamokin Dam plant recently was included on the list of coal plants facing possible closure following the announcement by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency of new emission regulations.
Located across the Susquehanna River from Sunbury, Pa., the Shamokin Dam plant began operating in 1949 and produces about 430 megawatts of electricity.
Sunbury Generation's plans include closing five of its six coal-fired generators and replacing them with two natural gas-fired turbines. The closure will allow Sunbury Generation to work on providing additional power for customers out of the PJM Interconnection or grid.
"We'd like the new plant to be online in 2015," said Ed Griegel, vice president of operations for the Sunbury power plant.
Last week, the EPA said it will start strictly requiring coal-fired plants to adhere to new federal regulations. Coal-fired burning plants were given the options of mounting modern pollution control equipment, closing down or transferring to natural gas.
In July, EPA issued a regulation requiring power plants in 27 states to lessen smokestack pollution that crosses state lines.
The Sunbury Generation conversion project still needs financing, Griegel said. However, he noted the cost of transition to natural gas will not incur much expense as the work will be done in phases.
Similar conversion projects from coal to natural gas could incur costs of up to nearly $1 billion.
Griegel added that Sunbury Generation plans to build a gas pipeline to connect to a larger interstate pipeline in the Williamsport area.
Once online, Shamokin Dam plant will generate enough electricity to power 500,000 homes.
In November, the Energy Information Administration reported that electricity from coal-fired plants in Pennsylvania had fallen 10 per cent since 2001, while natural-gas generated power grew eightfold.
Coal made up 46 per cent of total power generation in Pennsylvania for the first six months of 2011 while natural gas generation was 17 per cent.