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Coal

An Industry Transformed

By diving into today’s more diverse energy sector and embracing change, utilities stand to benefit over the long term. This is precisely why I am so excited about the future, even if I do occasionally look back wistfully on the past.
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"Today’s changes require open- mindedness …  a willingness to  let go of out-of-date-thinking." - Roy Palk
Author Bio: 

Roy Palk is senior energy advisor for the national law firm LeClairRyan, and works out of the firm’s office in Glen Allen, Virginia. Contact him at roy.palk@leclairryan.com.

Looking back on my 45 years in the energy sector.

Defying the Odds

Reports of coal’s demise are exaggerated. This summer, Dominion cleared the regulatory gauntlet to start up a new coal plant. Whether the example can be replicated might hinge on state incentives—and the forward price of natural gas.

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Figure 1 - Coal-Fired Emissions Progress
One of very few coal-fired power plants commissioned in recent years, the Virginia City Hybrid Energy Center uses air-cooled condensers (the green-topped structures) to reduce water consumption to one-tenth that of a comparable coal-fired plant.
A wood tipper delivers wood waste to the Virginia City circulating fluidized bed plant, which can burn up to 20 percent biomass along with coal.
The Virginia City plant’s fluidized bed boiler produces a much larger volume of solid waste than a most comparable pulverized coal plant would, due to the higher ash content of the coals used and partly because of the limestone sorbent mixed with fuel during combustion. At Virginia City, solid waste is stored onsite in a specially designed, 158-acre landfill.
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Coping with Carbon at Virginia City
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The Virginia City Hybrid Energy Center was already under construction when EPA issued its proposed rule regulating carbon dioxide at new sources, and therefore it isn’t subject to those restrictions. This facility is, however, well situated to deal with its carbon dioxide emissions, and the station’s owner, Dominion Resources, has supported research to establish a viable means of capturing and storing CO2.

While plans for the power station were proceeding and the permitting process was underway, carbon sequestration research funded in part by the U.S. Department of Energy was being undertaken near the Virginia City site. This work was conducted by the Virginia Center for Coal & Energy Research at Virginia Tech, and led by the Center’s Director Dr. Michael Karmis. It was coordinated by Southern States Energy Board and was part of the Southeastern Carbon Sequestration Partnership (SECARB). Dominion Resources provided matching funds for the investigation.

Karmis and his team succeeded in establishing the feasibility of sequestering carbon dioxide in un-mineable coal seams in central Appalachia. Estimated capacity of nearby seams to sequester carbon dioxide far exceeds the production of this gas over the lifetime of the Virginia City facility. The Virginia Tech team now is working to demonstrate using CO2 injection to enhance production of coal-bed methane from the area, while also sequestering the carbon dioxide.

Carbon capture technologies haven’t yet been tested at the Virginia City site. But to position the facility to take advantage of its proximity to coal seams that have proven suitable for sequestration, Dominion designed the plant with carbon capture in mind, and space has been set aside for installation of such equipment when it becomes commercially available—and upon approval by the Virginia State Corporation Commission.–HW

Author Bio: 

Herbert Wheary (haggiscat@live.com) is a private consultant on energy policy in Richmond, Va. The opinions in this article are the author’s and not necessarily those of the Commonwealth of Virginia or Dominion Resources.

Virginia brings a new coal-fired plant online.

Multi-pollutant Emissions Control

Conflicting demands for complying with EPA’s MATS rule favor a single control technology to deal with multiple types of power plant emissions.

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Technology Corridor
Author Bio: 

Kevin Crapsey is vice president of corporate strategy and development at Eco Power Solutions.

MATS compliance now, with flexibility for the future.

Least-Risk Planning

The D.C. Circuit’s CSAPR ruling reinforces the benefits of planning ahead and keeping options open. A diverse portfolio strategy reduces risks and costs.

Author Bio: 

Ken Colburn (kcolburn@raponline.org) and David Farnsworth are senior associates at the Regulatory Assistance Project (RAP). John Shenot is an associate, Camille Kadoch is a research and policy analyst, Elizabeth Watson is energy and environment fellow, and Rebecca Wigg is a communications associate at RAP.

The Homer City decision increases uncertainty—but rewards forward thinking.

Cleanup Time

Ongoing litigation over EPA rules raises compliance risks and costs. North Carolina utilities, however, benefited from the state’s forward thinking.

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Op Ed
Author Bio: 

David Hoppock (david.hoppock@duke.edu) is a research analyst and Sarah Adair (sarah.adair@duke.edu) is an associate in research at Duke University’s Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions in Durham, N.C.

Retrofitting early protected North Carolina ratepayers.

What Price, GHGs?

Renewable portfolio standards and other green energy rules put a price on environmental benefits. Calculating this price can help clarify the social value of GHG reductions.

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Figure 1 - Implied CO2 Externality Values of Carbon Reduction Policies
Figure 2 - Ranges of Implied CO2 Externality Values
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Business & Money
Author Bio: 

Philip Q Hanser is a principal with The Brattle Group, and Mariko Geronimo is an associate with the firm. The views in this article are theirs and not those of The Brattle Group or its clients.

Calculating the implied value of CO2 abatement in green energy policies.

Orchestrating Outages

Squeezing plant outage duration by days or even weeks can save the industry billions of dollars in lost running time. The San Onofre outage is just the most visible example of what’s at stake for the industry. New outage management technologies and processes allow generators to coordinate outages and get critical plants back online quickly and efficiently.

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Technology Corridor
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Call of Duty: The Outage
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According to the Entertainment Software Association (ESA), 72 percent of American households play computer or video games. Who cares?

Invensys does.

The company’s EYESIM virtual reality software allows goggle-wearing users to walk through a virtual power plant environment—like they might with a first-person video game. As a training system, it can be used to address virtually any outage scenario. It’s currently supporting an IGCC plant training demonstration program at the National Energy Technology Lab’s AVESTAR Center.

“We see this being used for outage planning,” says Peter Richmond, product manager with Invensys. “With a full 3-D view of the plant, planners will be able to visualize where the equipment is, where to place the scaffolding, where to place outage equipment, and even use it to determine the order in which the work will be performed.”

Further, as the ESA numbers clearly indicate, Invensys believes the next generation power plant workers will be familiar with video technology and consequently will embrace it over traditional training techniques. As such, Invensys is marketing its program for a variety of training purposes, including shut down and start up processes prior to an actual outage.

“A planned shut down and start-up doesn’t occur that often and plant personnel don’t usually get to practice the steps very often,” he says.

It’s a manual process—adjusting valves and controls. If you get it wrong, things can blow up.

“Our system will allow plant personnel to practice in a virtual environment,” Richmond says. “If they make a mistake, the system will tell them what could conceivably happen.”–SMG

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Got Boilermakers?
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When the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced last December that it had finalized its Mercury and Air Toxics Standards, or MATS, it predicted thousands of American workers would be needed to build, install, and operate new power plant equipment to reduce emissions of mercury, acid gases, and other air pollutants.

With roughly four years to comply with the mandate, many within the electric power industry have predicted labor shortages, especially on the power plant installation and construction end of the equation. But as far as the Kansas City, Kansas-based International Brotherhood of Boilermakers is concerned, those fears are unfounded.

Some 10 years ago, when many in the industry were predicting a spike in coal-fired power plant construction, the union began gearing up its apprenticeship and recruitment programs in anticipation of the building boom. At that time it was predicted that enough Boilermakers would be needed to handle 50 million man-hours of construction work by 2010.

But the boom was a dud. Plans for roughly 100 new coal-fired generation units were scrapped. As a result, boilermaker man-hours peaked at 41 million in 2008, with about 31,000 members actively working, and man-hours have been in sharp decline ever since. Boilermakers worked 34 million man-hours in 2009, 29 million man-hours in 2010, and 27 million man-hours in 2011. About 25 million man-hours are projected for 2012.

According to Kyle Evenson, the union’s executive director of construction sector operations, some boilermakers decided to retire or seek other occupations during the industry downturn. “But the average $58 an hour in pay and benefits will bring them back. As the industry recovers, we will meet the needs of the contractors and owners with our apprenticeship and recruiting training programs,” he says.

In the meantime, the workforce should be ample for the expected project demand. “I recently had a guy doing research for a think tank ask, ‘What if 10 power plants all schedule new baghouse equipment installations at the same time?’ I told him that’s roughly 2,000 boilermakers and we have about three times that number right now who are either underemployed or unemployed.”–SMG

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Got Boilermakers?
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When the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced last December that it had finalized its Mercury and Air Toxics Standards (MATS), it predicted thousands of American workers would be needed to build, install, and operate new power plant equipment to reduce emissions of mercury, acid gases, and other air pollutants.

With roughly four years to comply with the mandate, many within the electric power industry have predicted labor shortages, especially on the power plant installation and construction end of the equation. But as far as the Kansas City, Kansas-based International Brotherhood of Boilermakers is concerned, those fears are unfounded.

Some 10 years ago, when many in the industry were predicting a spike in coal-fired power plant construction, the union began gearing up its apprenticeship and recruitment programs in anticipation of the building boom. At that time it was predicted that enough boilermakers would be needed to handle 50 million man-hours of construction work by 2010.

But the boom was a dud. Plans for roughly 100 new coal-fired generation units were scrapped. As a result, boilermaker man-hours peaked at 41 million in 2008, with about 31,000 members actively working, and man-hours have been in sharp decline ever since. Boilermakers worked 34 million man-hours in 2009, 29 million man-hours in 2010, and 27 million man-hours in 2011. About 25 million man-hours are projected for 2012.

According to Kyle Evenson, the union's executive director of construction sector programs, some boilermakers decided to retire or seek other occupations during the industry's downturn. "But the average $58 an hour in pay and benefits will bring them back," he says. "As the industry recovers, we will meet the needs of the contractors and owners with our apprenticeship, recruiting, and training programs."

In the meantime, the workforce should be ample for the expected project demand. "I recently had a guy doing research for a think tank ask, 'What if 10 power plants all schedule new baghouse equipment instllations at the same time?' I told him that's roughly 2,000 boilermakers, and we have about three times that number right now who are either underemployed or unemployed."-SMG

Author Bio: 

Scott M. Gawlicki is Fortnightly’s contributing editor based in Hartford, Conn.

IT systems ease the pain of power plant restarts.