AEP Workers Prepare for Kammer Closure

MOUNDSVILLE – In the late 1950s, what is now known as the American Electric Power Kammer Plant opened to provide electricity to the nearby Ormet Corp. aluminum smelter across the Ohio River.

Due to ever-increasing Environmental Protection Agency standards regarding carbon and mercury emissions, the 630-megawatt coal-fired Kammer plant will go cold next summer – which will be less than two years following Ormet’s closure.

“The decommissioning plan is still being considered. We have a team looking at it,” Kammer Plant Manager Dan Moyer said as he and fellow employees provided The Intelligencer a tour of the facility, located between the Ohio River and W.Va. 2 in Marshall County.

Only the tallest of the Kammer stacks, which towers to 900 feet, emits waste from the production process. The two slightly shorter towers have not been in use since the late 1970s.

“The environmental limits are taking us down,” added Energy Production Superintendent Al Smith.

Fifty-five employees now earn about $4.3 million per year at the Kammer Plant, down from about 200 employees at the time of peak power production several years ago. The generating unit burns about 2,000 tons of coal per day.

“Originally, they conveyed coal across the road from the old Consol (Energy) Ireland Mine,” Smith said of how Kammer received its fuel before EPA regulations required the coal to arrive by other means.

Moyer said the plant workers will have the opportunity to transfer to the nearby AEP Mitchell Plant, the Cardinal Plant in Brilliant, or to another company facility.

“The environmental regulations need to be enforced even after the plant shuts down.

AEP has always followed the new rules,” John Holmes, operations support specialist, added.

Company spokeswoman Carmen Prati-Miller said a total of 11 AEP plants will need to close due to more stringent EPA standards. She said the firm is investing $1 billion for transmission system improvements that will help compensate for the loss of wattage.

AEP is upgrading the 5.9-mile Brues-Sand Hill line, which serves customers in the Bethlehem, Mozart, Elm Grove, Cedar Rocks and Sand Hill areas. It runs from the Brues substation, located near the border of Benwood and South Wheeling along W.Va. 2, to Sand Hill in Marshall County. She said the company believes this project will alleviate some potential problems that could come with Kammer’s closure.

Because the AEP Kammer and Mitchell plants sit in the heart of the Marcellus and Utica shale natural gas boom, some wonder why the company could not retrofit the Kammer plant to run on natural gas as a way to meet the new EPA requirements.

“Trying to retrofit a 50-year-old coal-fired power plant to run on natural gas would be very expensive,” Prati-Miller said.

As AEP prepares to close the Kammer generator, the Buffalo, N.Y.-based private development firm, Moundsville Power LLC, is working to build a 549-megawatt natural gas plant only a few miles up the road. Moundsville Power Managing Partner Andrew Dorn said the power his plant would create would go to the PJM Interconnection grid so that a variety of end-users could purchase the electricity. According to the PJM website, the firm operates 62,556 miles of transmission lines in serving 61 million electricity customers in the eastern U.S.

“Moundsville Power is not a competitor of ours,” Prati-Miller said.

Prati-Miller also addressed the power generation at the Mitchell Plant. Earlier this year, Kentucky Power assumed control of 50 percent of the facility’s wattage capacity. The remaining 50 percent belongs to AEP Generation Sources.

AEP Ohio, Wheeling Power, Appalachian Power, Kentucky Power and AEP Generation Sources are all subsidiaries of Columbus, Ohio-based corporate parent, AEP. The coal-fired Mitchell Plant is 43 years old, but had scrubbers installed in 2007.

“The Mitchell Plant meets all the new requirements,” Moyer said.