Buckeye Power is bucking the trend among national power producers, purchasing a coal plant to better ensure reliability for its member cooperatives.

After a partnership of more than 50 years with American Electric Power, the Columbus-based generation and transmission cooperative assumed full operations of the Cardinal Operating Plant in 2018.

When investor-owned AEP announced plans to close the only generation unit it owned of three units at the site, Buckeye Power sought acquisition of the facility to preserve its value as a power generation source serving 1 million electric co-op consumer-members in Ohio.

Sale of the plant closed in late 2022, when the Columbus-based G&T assumed ownership of 56-year-old, 590-megawatt Unit 1 at Cardinal, preserving more than 300 local jobs.

“We owned two-thirds of the Cardinal Plant for more than 50 years, so we took the opportunity to acquire full ownership of the assets,” said Patrick O’Loughlin, Buckeye Power’s president and CEO. “We're positioning ourselves to provide our members affordable, reliable power in an environmentally responsible way.”

As part of the agreement, AEP Generation Resources will continue to receive full output from Cardinal Unit 1 through 2028, with Buckeye Power now responsible for operations and maintenance of all three units at the Cardinal Power Plant, located in Brilliant, Ohio. The co-op is planning to go through with an earlier commitment to retire the facility’s Unit 3 generator, which it already owns.

“We’ve been preparing for this for several years, and once our power purchase agreement expires, we plan to shutter our 620-MW Unit 3, located at the same site,” O’Loughlin said. “Buying Unit 1 will allow us to continue meeting the needs of our member co-ops, with negligible impact on our overall generation capacity.”

Cardinal Units 1 and 2, constructed at the same time, share many design features and operating systems. Unit 3 is located about a mile away from its sister coal-fired generating units.

“Units 1 and 2 together will provide the best operating efficiencies, both from a fuel use and emissions point of view,” said O’Loughlin.

Since 2000, the G&T has invested more than $1.2 billion in emission controls at its wholly owned Units 2 and 3. AEP made similar investments in Unit 1, making Cardinal one of the most up-to-date utility scale coal-based generation facilities in the world.

O’Loughlin said he and Buckeye Power’s Board remain committed to a diverse generation portfolio. He cited forecasts for increased energy demand nationwide and recent weather events that have shined a light on the perils of over-reliance on intermittent resources. He recently underscored that point at a roundtable discussion on energy security held by the House Energy and Commerce Committee’s Republican members.

“It's become more and more important that the baseload resources that we still have are available to carry us through the ups and downs,” O’Loughlin said. “Every segment of the electric grid needs baseload power generation, and there isn’t a lot of it available.”

Buckeye Power’s 3,000 MW of generation now includes 710 MW of natural gas peaking capacity and 74 megawatts of owned or contracted renewables.

“Modern, properly maintained coal-based units, equipped to meet or exceed environmental regulations are proven and existing technology,” O’Loughlin added. “We’re more dependent upon electricity than ever before, and consumers expect reliable and affordable power to be regularly available. When it’s not, nothing works the way any of us expect it to.”