PSEG urged to close coal-fired power plant

PSEG's Bridgeport Harbor Station power plant is located PSEG's Bridgeport Harbor Station power plant is located in Bridgeport, Conn. (Jan. 23, 2014) Photo Credit: Autumn Driscoll/Connecticut Post

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One of the last coal-fired power plants in the region is under pressure from energy experts and environmentalists to close down, but owner PSEG says it's too important to shutter.

The plant, on Bridgeport Harbor across Long Island Sound and owned by a PSEG subsidiary, no longer is financially viable, according to a report released last week by an independent think tank. The plant has operated heavily through December and January, and power from the plant is available to Long Island on the New England spot energy market via the Cross-Sound cable.

The 395-megawatt plant, opened in 1967, burns coal and fuel oil.

"It is unlikely that PSEG Power can expect to obtain earnings sufficient to cover operating expenses, debt and an adequate return" from the plant long term, according to the report from the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis, a Cleveland think tank that seeks to reduce reliance on plants that burn coal and other "nonrenewable" resources. The report urges closing the Bridgeport plant in the "not-too-distant future."

Environmentalists say the plant, one of the few remaining coal-burning generators in the region (there are also three upstate, two in New Hampshire and one in Massachusetts), is an antiquated polluter that should be closed in favor of renewable power sources.

PSEG says Bridgeport is "among the cleanest" U.S. coal-fired plants, and is "important to the reliability of the [electric] grid" -- particularly in winter, when the prices of natural gas and heating oil surge.

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Local environmental advocates say while the plant doesn't operate directly for Long Island under a capacity contract, PSEG has an obligation to switch to cleaner power sources now that it has a long-term contract to operate the Long Island electric grid.

Environmentalists have criticized PSEG Long Island for reducing its green-energy budget by about $26 million this year. PSEG Power, which operates the Bridgeport plant, is a sister company of PSEG Long Island and both are operated by the parent Public Service Enterprise Group of Newark.

"This Bridgeport plant releases particulate matter that threatens our air quality and pollutes Long Island Sound," said Adrienne Esposito, executive director for Citizens Campaign for the Environment, which has offices in New York and Connecticut including in Farmingdale.

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"Every time it roars into use, the plant is putting the health of the people in that community at risk," said Kim Teplitzky, spokeswoman for the Sierra Club, an environmental group.In a statement, PSEG Power said the Bridgeport plant "plays a pivotal role in maintaining the reliability of the local grid."

PSEG Power operates two coal-burning plants in New Jersey, along with two New Jersey nuclear plants and numerous natural-gas plants. LIPA has a direct link to the New Jersey power sources through the Neptune cable under the Atlantic.

Bridgeport has operated during the polar vortex-related cold weather, which has constrained natural gas supplies, and "highlighted the importance of fuel diversity in maintaining a reliable supply of electric energy," PSEG Power said.

The IEFFA report characterized the Bridgeport plant as in "deep financial trouble since 2009," and said it's "unlikely to be financially viable for the long-term."

Pretax earnings from the plant dropped from $164 million in 2008 to $4 million in 2012, but rebounded to more than $25 million last year, according to the study. Its annual usage also has dropped steadily since 2008, though it rebounded somewhat in 2013, the study says.

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PSEG Power said the plant's financials are confidential."I don't understand why they're continuing to operate it," the study's co-author, David Schlissel, said in an interview. "They make a lot of money from their other plants, not Bridgeport. Why bother?"

Nancy Tucker-Datrio, a spokeswoman for PSEG Power, wouldn't comment directly on the plant's finances or output, but noted investment of $150 million in emissions technology to reduce pollution.

"We've taken great pains to make this plant environmentally compliant. It's well within the permits and the guidelines," Tucker-Datrio said.

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