Air Force seeks outside operator for Alaska coal plant

The U.S. Air Force is requesting qualifications from private industry interested in leasing a coal-fired, under-used combined heat and power plant at Clear Air Force Station (AFS), Alaska.

Currently, the 22-MW coal plant is running below capacity and has the potential to generate more power than is needed for the installation. “As an Enhanced Use Lease, the excess power could be sold to the Alaska power grid, improving energy security for the area,” the Air Force said in an Oct. 17 statement. “Lease payments to the Air Force could help the installation fund much-needed repairs and infrastructure needs without using taxpayer resources.”

The plant is the station’s sole source of electricity and heating, and is located on 26.5 acres of land with access to a railroad track. The Air Force said it anticipates receiving in-kind consideration for the lease, with the winning developer responsible for needed upgrades at the plant, providing for newer, cleaner technology. The Air Force Civil Engineer Center issued a Request for Qualifications for developers interested in the project, with responses due by Dec. 7.

The request said about a new fuel option for the plant: “Clear AFS does not currently have access to a natural gas supply; however, there are several gas pipeline projects, under consideration, some of which could bring gas in proximity to the plant. Two separate consortiums, TransCanada/Exxon Mobil and BP/ConocoPhillips, are proposing to build natural gas pipelines from the Alaska North Slope to either Valdez or Boundary Lake, Alberta. Both proposed pipeline projects run through Fairbanks and, therefore, could potentially bring gas supply to Clear AFS. The proposed schedules envision a functioning pipeline around 2020, but there is no guarantee that a pipeline will be built. If a pipeline is built, it is unlikely that developers would construct a secondary pipeline to the Clear AFS, given the relatively small demand for natural gas at the base and the lack of nearby development.”

Usibelli is the plant’s only coal supplier

The request also said: “Coal used at Clear AFS is produced by the nearby Usibelli Coal Mine, Inc., the sole source of coal for the power plant and the only coal mine in Alaska. Coal is typically delivered to the installation two times per week via rail along the Alaska Railroad line, which traverses a portion of Clear AFS. The coal is delivered by Air Force owned and operated locomotives along Air Force owned and operated rail spurs connecting to the Alaska Railroad line. A stockpile of crushed coal is maintained in an open storage yard.” Any new operator will be responsible for securing its own source of coal.

The government would deliver full possession and control of the leased premises to the selected operator after the government completes a separate project to provide a new heat plant and interconnect Clear AFS to the public power grid under the Department of Defense (DoD) Energy Conservation Investment Program (the ECIP Project). The ECIP Project will generally include certain design work, permitting and environmental studies, site work, transmission line installation and construction of a switchgear building, substation and heat plant. The government also currently intends to obtain an interconnection agreement and service contract with Golden Valley Electric Association. It anticipates awarding a contract for facilities construction in mid-2013 with project completion in the fall of 2014.

The existing power station houses three General Electric Class A 7.5-MW, 3,600-revolutions per minute (RPM) generators. Each turbine generator is powered by steam from three coal-fired boilers designed for 100,000 pounds per hour (lb/hr) of steam. Steam generation is used for a central heating system. The generators are operated at 85% of the design capacity (85,000 pounds per hour steam flow), which can produce 19.1 MW of electrical output.

About Barry Cassell 20414 Articles
Barry Cassell is Chief Analyst for GenerationHub covering coal and emission controls issues, projects and policy. He has covered the coal and power generation industry for more than 24 years, beginning in November 2011 at GenerationHub and prior to that as editor of SNL Energy’s Coal Report. He was formerly with Coal Outlook for 15 years as the publication’s editor and contributing writer, and prior to that he was editor of Coal & Synfuels Technology and associate editor of The Energy Report. He has a bachelor’s degree from Central Michigan University.