Changes abound at the Cardinal plant

CARDINAL CHANGES — The Cardinal Plant at Brilliant underwent some changes on March 1 when Buckeye Power, the generation and transmission cooperative of Ohio’s Electric Cooperatives, took over management and operation of the 1,800-megawatt power plant. The same personnel will continue to operate the plant and plans continue to be to have the plant run well into the future. Workers now are working for the Cardinal Operating Co. -- Contributed

BRILLIANT — The people who make the electricity flow from the Cardinal Plant generating station at Brilliant are wearing different hats these days.

Specifically, the AEP logo has been replaced by the Cardinal Operating Co. logo, reflecting an agreement that turned over management and operation of the 1,800-megawatt coal-fired power plant to Buckeye Power on March 1. Buckeye Power is the generation and transmission cooperative for Ohio’s Electric Cooperatives. Officials say the plant will continue to operate with the same personnel and the same goal of being around for the long term.

The changes also included Buckeye taking over operations of the peaking gas plants at Greenville and Convoy, Ohio. American Electric continues as the sole owner of Cardinal’s Unit 1.

Buckeye Power continues to own Units 2 and 3. It and AEP had a 50-50 joint operating agreement for the units previous to March 1, with Buckeye Power now taking over management of all three units.

What it all means is the plant is continuing operations and isn’t making major changes. Employees were transitioned from AEP to Cardinal Operating Co.

The plant’s top managers discussed the plant and its future during a recent interview.

“The job is to run the plant as efficiently and reliably and safely as we can,” said plant Manager Chuck George. He said AEP and Buckeye Power made substantial investments to make Cardinal one of the cleanest coal plants in the United States, and the goal is to continue operations for the long term.

Assistant Plant Manager Bethany Schunn explained there were some corporate-level changes involving former AEP functions, including information technology, engineering staff and accounting. Employment at Cardinal has risen by 10, from 310 to 320 as a result.

Personnel who have been part of Cardinal continue to be part of Cardinal, as part of a team that has worked 1.7 million manhours without a lost-time injury, George said. He noted the workers at the plant are members of the Utility Workers Union and local unions are used for trades jobs in the plant, all of which contributes to the safety record.

Cardinal remains a major economic force for the area, with $38 million in annual payroll. It paid $8 million in property taxes in 2017. The plant also contributes to community needs, with employees pledging $18,000 to the United Way of Jefferson County and the United Way of the Upper Ohio Valley, said Patrick Higgins, spokesman for Ohio’s Electric Cooperatives. George noted participation by employees in the annual United Way Day of Caring, donation of 216 pairs of shoes in 2017 to the United Sole effort and the continued backing of the Buckeye Local Back to School Bash, among other charitable contributions.

Cardinal, Higgins said, is ingrained in the fabric of Brilliant and Wells Township as a job supplier and a community resource, and will continue to be so.

Units 1 and 2 are 50 years old, with Unit 3 having been completed in 1977. The power plant serves 1 million electric consumers in 77 of Ohio’s 88 counties, officials said. Higgins said these are challenging times for coal but coal continues to be an affordable and viable fuel, with stable pricing compared with the volatility of natural gas.

Cardinal, he said, burns $200 million worth of coal annually, about 4 million tons a year, and it is from mines within 100 miles of the plant.

AEP had announced in late 2016 its plans to convert its unit, Unit 1, at Cardinal to natural gas fuel by 2030. George said that is AEP’s decision.

He said work continues with input from employees to drive down costs to keep the plant successful.

“It’s a process in progress. We take the employees suggestions, they are the ones who run the business,” he said. Schunn added the goal always is to stay competitive.

She noted all the employees are consumers of electricity, just like everyone, so the costs impact everyone in the plant just as they impact every rate payer.

Ohio’s electric cooperatives arose out of the 1930s, when President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s New Deal programs worked toward rural electrification. Smaller pockets of population formed their own cooperatives to obtain electricity. The cooperatives are self-governing and do not fall under Public Utilities Commission of Ohio regulation, but they are locally controlled.

George has been in the power industry for more than 34 years, starting at the Kammer-Mitchell Plant in Marshall County, W.Va., and came to Cardinal in 2010. Schunn worked at AEP’s Conesville plant for two years and went to Buckeye Power at the Cardinal Plant in 2017 as maintenance superintendent.

Up the river, FirstEnergy has spun off its generating units into a separate company that filed bankruptcy March 31. The company previously announced its intention to shut down four of the generating units at the W.H. Sammis Plant at Stratton by 2020.

The Cardinal officials emphasized no such moves are anticipated at the Cardinal Operating Co. units at Brilliant.

(Giannamore can be contacted at pgiannamore@heraldstaronline.com.)

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