Pennsylvania Legacies #156

November 15, 2021By: Lily Jones
PEC Blog

With the energy market changing, power-generation companies must reassess their business models. Rather than cut their losses and move on, Talen Energy of Allentown, PA, is looking at ways to keep facilities open by exploring other options for their plants, like battery storage and digital currency mining. We discuss with Julie LaBella, Talen’s Senior Director for Regulatory and External Affairs.

Between climate change and the changing economics of energy production, there’s no realistic scenario where coal-fired power plants are still a part of Pennsylvania’s energy portfolio by 2050. Nuclear energy faces challenges too, though decarbonization is not one of them: technologically, at least, nuclear is well suited for the zero-carbon energy portfolio of the future. But economic viability is another matter, and competition from cheaper gas-generation has cast a shadow over the future of Pennsylvania’s nuclear fleet as well.

These are the realities power-generation companies like Allentown-based Talen Energy are facing. Rather than cut their losses and move on, Talen is looking at ways to keep facilities open by reinventing the business model.

“We want to do this transformation in a way that considers the impacts to our people and the communities which we’ve been part of for decades, in many cases,” said Julie LaBella, Talen’s Senior Director for Regulatory and External Affairs. “So instead of closing a plant, we’ve looked at each of our portfolio assets and said ‘what else can potentially be done here?'”

That question led to the conversion of one of Talen’s coal-fired plants in Maryland to a battery storage facility.

We want to do this transformation in a way that considers the impacts to our people and the communities which we’ve been part of for decades.

“We own some plants that are in highly congested areas. While we appreciate the desire to not continue burning fossil fuels in that region, there’s still a need for a power source there. So that is one of the areas that we’ve looked to develop a battery project in, because we feel that that could be an answer to the congestion and the energy source needs in that area,” said LaBella.

Converting existing plants is often a win-win. Local economies are saved the disruption of a plant closure, and Talen can use existing infrastructure for their new projects.

“That is part of the reason Talen has looked at utilizing existing land or existing sites, because we’re fortunate to be located near the infrastructure, the transmission and distribution infrastructure that’s needed,” said LaBella. “It may still require upgrades or work to the transmission system, but you’re not starting from scratch.”

Talen’s Susquehanna nuclear plant will be put to use mining cryptocurrency, an energy-hungry industry with a global carbon footprint that’s currently the size of a small country.

“By directly connecting those facilities to the nuclear plant, we are able to provide what we call verifiable zero-carbon coins, which means they know that those coins are being produced by clean energy,” said LaBella.

These approaches to the energy transition could potentially be replicated by other power-generation companies.

“We certainly welcome others to follow in our footsteps,” said LaBella.

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