New life for dead and dying coal plants?  - Power Magazine

New life for dead and dying coal plants? – Power Magazine

With coal plants retired, power companies must decide what to do with the sites. Some older plants have been added to the National Register of Historic Places and repurposed as commercial or office space, while others have used existing infrastructure for new solar or gas plants. In the end, almost every situation has its own unique capabilities.

With coal-fired power plants shutting down across the United States, a decades-old trend that shows increasing speed, a natural question arises: What to do with those useless structures now. Once a simple question, when coal-fired units often seemed immortal, the question became more serious.

The United States is not alone in closing coal plants

The United States is not the only country looking at shutting down a large number of coal plants and wondering what to do with the rest. Chile is a high-income market economy as classified by the World Bank. Wikipedia reports, “The country is considered one of the most prosperous countries in South America, leading the region in competitiveness, per capita income, globalization, economic freedom, and low perception of corruption.”

According to news website Dialogo Chino, “By 2040, Chile plans to shut down all coal-fired power plants. Now, experts are looking into how to use it in the country’s energy transition.” Chile had an installed generation capacity of over 26 GW at the end of 2020, with coal accounting for 20.3%, the largest share of the country’s fossil energy, followed by natural gas (18.9%) and petroleum-based capacity (11.3%). . Hydro makes up most of the rest, about 26.7% of capacity, with solar (12.1%), wind (8.8%), biomass (1.8%), and geothermal (0.2%).

Chile plans to close 11 of its 30 coal plants by 2024 and the rest by 2040. As a result, Dialogo Chino wrote, “Two additional challenges must be faced: replacing Chile’s energy currently produced by coal; and finding use for the 30 plants that will be closed.” The government and the companies involved are considering converting to biomass, biogas, desalination plants, or to house new technologies such as Carnot batteries.

In Europe, the largest electricity utility Enel, which has been heavily reliant on coal, says it will shut down all of its coal-fired capacity over the next six years, and repurpose sites. Fabio Cotadilla said to the publication online fast company, “Most coal-fired plants are being converted to renewable energy, but in some cases, they are enjoying a new decade of life with entirely different roles.”

The US Energy Information Administration estimates that 85% of the power plants that will close this year will be coal-fired units, driven by the economics of natural gas and renewables, and environmental policies of climate change (see the sidebar “The US is not alone in coal plant shutdowns”) ). S&P Global Market Intelligence predicts, “US coal-fired generation capacity is set to hit a record low in 2028 before strict environmental rules are in place, with more than 23 gigawatts set to be decommissioned, dwarfing the previous retirement record set in 2015.”

What is the residual value in those discarded fossil units? Part of the answer is clear: recycling and scrap. There is a lot of metal in those units, which can be salvaged for sale in scrap metal markets where factories have been shut down. Large pieces of equipment – such as switchgear and steam turbine generators – can often be salvaged.

It’s about real estate

But there is a less obvious and perhaps more valuable asset in dead units: real estate. Old facilities and new entrepreneurs increasingly see not what is missing in a closed factory, but what it could be. Not just bare land that can be converted into other power generation opportunities, such as solar farms or gas units, or sites for new uses like marijuana cultivation, but interesting architectural gems that can be converted into commercial buildings and retail buildings.

A good example of this is the Pratt Street power plant in Baltimore in the heart of the city’s main commercial and tourist inner port district. Originally a coal-fired power plant for the city’s electric transmission system and eventually part of the predecessor of the investor-owned Baltimore Gas and Electric System, the neoclassical plant closed in 1973.

1. Pratt Street Power Plant is a historic facility located in downtown Baltimore, Maryland. The factory closed in 1973 and was reused as a commercial space. Courtesy: CC/J Edward Johnson

After sitting vacant for years, the city and local businesses revived the stunning building early this century. Tenants included the Hard Rock Café, Barnes & Noble, a contemporary art gallery, and the headquarters of The Cordish Companies, a large local real estate firm that has invested in casinos in the state (Figure 1). The building was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1987.

2. The McPherson Board of Utilities reallocated the city’s #1 power plant to create office space for community-owned utilities. The architects were able to keep some of the factory’s history, such as the turbine generator, shown here, in the museum area of ​​the building. Source: POWER

Another example of the real estate value left from closed coal-fired factories in McPherson, Kansas, a town of about 13,000 in the middle of the state. McPherson’s municipal facilities featured a 1934 Art Deco coal-burning plant, later converted to oil, which closed in 1947. Converted into offices, it now houses the McPherson Board of Utilities. The building was listed on the National Register in 2007 (Fig. 2).

There is more to reusing enclosed fossil plants for other purposes than saving architectural gems. More (see “Nuclear Warning” sidebar).

nuclear warning

Warning here. When talking about the reuse of unnecessary power plants, the discussion revolves around fossil units, especially coal-fired generators. Nuclear power presents special and challenging conditions, including latent radiation and spent fuel on site, that greatly complicate what can be done with surplus nuclear weapons. A federal agency, the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission, approves and oversees the entire decommissioning process.

A year ago, the US Institute of Energy Economics and Financial Analysis, a not-for-profit energy think tank, reported that “repurposing coal plants to solar and battery power can pay up to 5 times more than shutting down.” The analysis concludes that, “For power utilities, the reuse of coal plants offers several advantages.

“First, reuse reduces decommissioning costs because it avoids some of the environmental remediation requirements and allows partial reuse of existing assets such as degraded land, as well as generators, substations and grid connections. Second, it reduces the cost of running renewable energy on the same site. Third, for For coal plants located in urban and peri-urban areas, appearance reuse of multiple end uses leads to economic diversification and industrial regeneration, which benefits local economies and workforce.Fourth, it can provide a profitable exit strategy for stranded and cumbersome coal plants.Five , the reuse of coal plant equipment (such as a turbo-generator) allows a portion of the reactive power service to be retained to control the voltage originally supplied by the coal plant, a valuable service when renewable energy is rapidly added.”

Clearly, reallocation is a business opportunity. One of the first companies to get into turning dead plants into living opportunities is TRC, a company based in Windsor, Connecticut, which began operations through a connection with Travelers Insurance, and was incorporated in 1969 as the New England Research Corporation. TRC describes its RE POWER program as “an integrated approach that manages the transition of expired fossil fuel power plants from safe decommissioning, through decommissioning and asset recovery, to reusing property to benefit society and improve your return on investment (ROI).”

TRC says its RE POWER process has three components:

    ■ Plant relocation, which includes “strategic planning and recommendations for potential end use of electrical property/infrastructure, decommissioning and asset recovery strategies and pre-demolition planning activities.”
    ■ Shutdown, including “Power plant decommissioning and demolition, site remediation and mitigation of hazardous materials and redevelopment planning.”
    ■ Reuse / Reuse, meaning “redevelopment activities to allow full use of the power plant site, providing a benefit to the community and/or enabling the sale of the asset for commercial purposes.”

Recent projects in 2017 include removing one of three large gas-fired units at the Department of Water and Energy’s Scattergood plant in Los Angeles. This complex, 18-month project involved decommissioning the unit without disrupting the other two operating units. The reallocation consisted of replacing the conventional gas boiler with a combined cycle turbine and two simple cycle turbines.

In 2001, the Frontier Group of Companies, headquartered in Buffalo, New York, was formed to bring together “strategically coordinated businesses with expertise and capabilities to reuse, repurpose, and redevelop large-scale industrial and commercial facilities.” Frontier Group companies include leading industrial operations in Industrial demolition, industrial decommissioning, asset recovery, equipment reuse, industrial cleaning, site remediation, industrial field redevelopment, utility acquisition, real estate development, energy exploration, energy production, and material recycling.” The Frontier Group says it is also developing Many green energy facilities by converting closed fossil fuel power plants into solar farms that produce “clean and green electricity”.

In 2019, Frontier Group purchased American Electric Power’s five-unit Philip Spurn coal-fired plant in Mason County, West Virginia. Earlier this year, Frontier Group demolished the 450MW Spurn 5 unit (the other four units had a nominal capacity of 145MW each). In a press release, Frontier CEO David Franjoine said: “Since our acquisition of the former power plant, we have invested significant resources to re-site this 280-acre site, including preparing a plan to transform this brownfield into a modern industrial area.” The site, he said, is close to the recently announced Nucor steel plant, and has the facilities and infrastructure needed to attract companies specializing in value-added steel, energy, material handling and transportation logistics.

EPRI advice for sellers

For utility companies that have dead coal plants, or are planning to euthanize existing plants, the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI) offers advice on how to consider these projects. In its 2019 report, “A Comprehensive Approach to Relocating Stalled Coal Power Plants: Turning Liabilities into Assets,” based on case studies, EPRI introduces the concept of “mass reallocation.” Its researchers write, “Bulky repurposing may provide a new methodology for reusing retired coal power plants. While environmental remediation is often a single initial focus, repurposing overarching purposes suggests a broader initial focus to more comprehensively and rapidly identify sustainable challenges and solutions.”

“The main focus of mass reuse is to bring relevant parties together early in the process to find comprehensive solutions to complex problems. Accordingly, utility companies may find it beneficial initially to form a comprehensive in-house reallocation team made up of representatives from all relevant internal departments. relevance and possibly key external advisors (economic development officials, consultants, etc.). The task force’s mandate may be to identify and implement market-driven candidate sites for re-employment.”

Kennedy Mayes He is a veteran energy reporter and a frequent contributor to POWER.

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