PSEG to shut down Mercer coal plant tomorrow

The Public Service Enterprise Group of Newark (PSEG) will shut down its Mercer Generating Station in Hamilton and its Hudson Generating Station tomorrow, June 1. The stations are the last two coal-fired power plants the company operates in New Jersey.

The closures take place six years after the company completed more than $1 billion in upgrades at the two sites to comply with new federal emissions standards. Environmentalists have taken credit for forcing the two coal plants to close, but PSEG blames fracking. The company did not anticipate the sharp fall in energy prices brought on by shale gas.

“The sustained low prices of natural gas have put economic pressure on these plants for some time. In that context, we could not justify the significant investment required to upgrade these plants to meet the new reliability standards,” said Bill Levis, president and chief operating officer of PSEG Power, in a statement when the closures were announced.

“The plants have been infrequently called on to run and neither plant cleared the last two PJM capacity auctions. The plants’ capacity payments have been critical to their profitability and PSEG’s ability to continue to invest in modernizing them,” Levis said.

The Mercer Generating Station was opened in 1960.  The Hudson Generation Station was opened in 1968.  About 100 employees work at each of the two locations.The company said it would place as many employees as possible at the two plants in other jobs within the company. Some longtime employees will retire.

PSEG currently is investing more than $600 million in a new state-of-the-art combined-cycled gas plant in Sewaren, N.J., as well as new plants in Connecticut and Maryland. PSEG Power has gas facilities and nuclear plants in New Jersey. Energy production in the state will now will be split almost evenly between nuclear and natural gas, with a small but growing amount of renewable energy, officials said.

PSEG is evaluating options for future use of the sites.

Environmental groups heralded the closures this week, saying the move will reduce air pollution and greenhouse gases.

“This is great news: finally, the two dirtiest coal plants in New Jersey will close. The entire region can breathe easier,” said Jeff Tittel, director of the New Jersey Sierra Club. “After 20 years of fighting these plants with lawsuits, protests, and events, the environment finally gets a victory. New Jersey has some of the worst air pollution in the nation and these plants are big contributors to that. These were two of the largest sources of air pollution in the region. With Mercer and Hudson closing, there will not be any coal plants from Trenton all the way to Maine and Jersey City to Buffalo. This is win-win for the people and environment for New Jersey.”

Tittel said closing the Mercer plant will help get rid of air pollution and protect fish. The Mercer Generating Station in Hamilton is the largest source of air pollution in the region, it is also been one of the largest sources of water pollution, Tittel said.

“The plant has killed up to 70 million fish and fish larvae per year, including more than 30 species of fish,” he said. “Every day, this plant has robbed the river of millions of gallons and dumps polluted water back into the River. By closing this plant, we are protecting these fish and the entire Delaware River.”

The closures come as the Trump administration is rolling back Obama-era regulations on the coal industry.

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