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First Energy to Construct Biomass Plant in Ohio

Conversion of the R.E. Burger plant in the tiny Ohio River town of Shadyside fulfills part of a settlement agreement the utility made with the state to reduce pollution from its power plants.

The conversion protects 95 current jobs and opens the possibility that other positions will be created through the retrofit and expansion, according to First Energy spokesman Mark Durbin.

He says the plant currently produces enough electricity to run 190,000 homes, but it does it, by burning coal.

MARK DURBIN: Our goal with this ultimately, when it's all said and done, by 2012 we could have this operating on the biomass so that it could burn 100% biomass to again give us enough power for those 190,000 homes."

Durbin says the Burger Plant will serve as a model for how the firm could convert other plants, across the state and nation.

Governor Strickland says adding this new technology gives the state a jump start toward achieving its' renewable energy goals. A federal EPA ruling gives utilities until 2025 to use renewable technologies to generate about 13% of the power its sells.

The conversion will cost First Energy about 200 million dollars, and the plant will begin burning grass and woodchip-like materials early next year.

Rick Jackson is a senior host and producer at Ideastream Public Media. He hosts the "Sound of Ideas" on WKSU and "NewsDepth" on WVIZ.