Plans to close Bruce Mansfield plant a blow to employees, Beaver County economy

September 25, 2018
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One of the three turbines at the Bruce Mansfield Power Station in Shippingport. Philip G. Pavely | Tribune-Review

Beaver County stands to lose a sizable chunk of its tax base in addition to more than 250 good-paying industrial jobs should bankrupt FirstEnergy Solutions close its Bruce Mansfield power plant in 2021 as announced on Wednesday, county officials said.

County Commissioners Chairman Dan Camp said FirstEnergy, which owns the coal-fired Bruce Mansfield plant and the Beaver Valley Nuclear Power Station, both in Shippingport, is the county’s largest taxpayer with property assessed at $135 million.

Its annual tax bill totals about $1.8 million for a county that has struggled financially in recent years and levied a 17 percent tax increase in 2017 to balance its $75 million operating budget.

“It’s a trickle down effect,” Camp said. “It’s not only affecting the workers, but it’s going to impact all of Beaver County.”

South Side Area School District and Shippingport would also lose significant tax revenue.

FirstEnergy Solutions, a subsidiary of Akron-based FirstEnergy Corp., cited “market challenges” in March when it filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy and announced it intended to close all of its coal-fired and nuclear plants. Bruce Mansfield is set to close on June 1, 2021. The company has yet to announce a closing date for the nuclear plant, which employs around 800, but said it would take about three years.

Bruce Mansfield has been generating power since 1976 when the first of its three units went online.

Shippingport was home to the nation’s first commercial nuclear power plant, the Shippingport Atomic Power Station, which went online in 1957. That plant, owned and built by Duquesne Light Co., operated until 1982 and has since been dismantled. Its successors -- the Beaver Valley Unit 1 and Unit 2 reactors -- are owned by FirstEnergy and have been running since 1976 and 1987, respectively.

County officials lamented that the closing of the plants would be a major setback for a county celebrating its first significant economic development -- Shell Chemical’s $6 billion ethane cracker plant under construction in Potter Township -- since the collapse of the steel industry in the 1980s.

“We’re making all this economic progress and then you take a step backward potentially in 2021,” said Jack Manning, president and executive director of the Beaver County Chamber of Commerce. “It certainly negates a lot of the positive gains we’ve been having here in Beaver County.

“Those are good family-sustaining wages, and the lack of that disposable income is going to impact some of the businesses as well as the taxes for all of the places that collect them.”

FirstEnergy has sought intervention from the Department of Energy to keep its plants open, and Bruce Mansfield workers are counting on government to stop the closure, according to Victor Roppa, president of International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 272. He said the union has yet to receive word from the company on the fate of its employees.

FirstEnergy Solutions employees about 250 union and management workers at the plant, according to a company spokesman. About 200 of those are union members.

In addition to Bruce Mansfield, the company announced the closings of three plants in Ohio. The combined workforce of the four plants is about 550.

“If they do shut the plant down, of course, there’s going to be a job reduction or elimination,” Roppa said. “We’re still hoping the government realizes the importance of reliable power and does something to help us out.”

If that happens, FirstEnergy could reverse course, according to a company statement.

“The federal government is currently considering policy measures that would support fossil and nuclear generating facilities considered at risk in the current market environment, but vital to grid security and reliability,” it said. “Depending on the timing of any federal policy action, deactivation decisions could be reversed or postponed.”

Roppa said he hopes the federal government realizes the critical role Bruce Mansfield plays in supplying power to the region’s electrical grid.

“We’re going to still be here and run as usual until they restructure, and there’s no answers yet on what’s going to happen,” he said. “We have a highly skilled, proud workforce down here, and we want to keep providing dependable power for the community.”

The other plants set to close are Eastlake 6 in Eastlake, Ohio; W.H. Sammis Diesel in Stratton, Ohio; and W.H. Sammis Units 5-7, also in Stratton.

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