Columbiana EMA voices concerns should Beaver Valley plant close

LISBON — All of the talk about the Beaver Valley nuclear power plant possibly closing has Columbiana County officials paying close attention to what may happen.

That’s because FirstEnergy Corp., which operates Beaver Valley, provides two-thirds of the funding for operation of the county Emergency Management Agency.

County Commissioner Tim Weigle, who serves as the board liaison to the EMA, pointed out they are operating under a two-year contract with FirstEnergy that does not end until 2020, “and right now we’re confident we have a partnership with them until then.”

Counties within 10 miles of the Beaver Valley plant are required to have an emergency response plan in the event of an accident at the facility. This is why FirstEnergy has helped fund EMAs in those counties since the 1980s.

Under the new two-year contract approved last year by commissioners, FirstEnergy is to provide $216,910 for the EMA this year and $237,134 in 2019. The EMA’s total budget is about $320,000 annually, with commissioners contributing $7,683 this year and $8,233 in 2019. The rest comes from the Ohio EMA.

Weigle was asked if he was concerned about the recent news articles stating Beaver Valley is among a number of FirstEnergy nuclear plants in Ohio and Pennsylvania facing premature closure because they are losing money and cannot compete with new electric plants powered by natural gas resulting from the fracking boom.

“I’m not right now, but I would be concerned about the impact on the EMA,” he said, adding cuts would likely occur should Beaver Valley close and the funding go away.

“We would not be able to operate at the same capacity as today,” Weigle said.

EMA Director Peggy Clark has spoken to her contacts at FirstEnergy and has no additional insight into what might occur.

“I have been carefully watching the news, but I don’t know anymore than what’s being reported,” she said.

A major deadline looming is April 2, which is when a $100 million debt principal payment is due. FirstEnergy is reportedly in talks with private investors to come up with a plan. FirstEnergy’s chief financial officer has said it is unlikely they would be able to sell Beaver Valley or the Bruce Mansfield plant next door, which is a coal plant also operated by the utility that faces the same fate as the nuclear plant. Beaver Valley has 800 employees, while Bruce Mansfield has 350 workers.

Weigle hopes it does not come to that and has written letters in support of efforts to provide legislative relief for FirstEnergy.

“We’ve had a good relationship with FirstEnergy for all these years and it would be a shame to see that plant close,” he said.