FirstEnergy (NYSE: FE) is permitting a new railcar unloader for its Harrison power plant in Harrison County, W.Va., that will allow it to rail in Illinois Basin and Powder River Basin coal for this plant, traditionally fired by locally-mined coal.
To keep the plant on local, high-sulfur coal, plant owner Allegheny Energy at Harrison was one of a handful of utilities nationwide to install scrubbers to meet the 1995 compliance deadline under Phase 1 of the 1990 Clean Air Act. FirstEnergy took over Allegheny Energy in 2011. The West Virginia Public Service Commission has in the past prodded the utility to set aside a certain amount of the plant’s coal supply for local coal producers.
The West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection is taking public comment until Nov. 8 on an air permit change that would allow construction of a Rapid Discharge Railcar Unloading (RDRU) system capable of unloading a maximum of 3,000 tons of coal per hour and 5 million tons of coal per year. The existing rotary rail car dump is being upgraded to a bottom dump RDRU. The railcars will enter the enclosure where the coal will be discharged through the bottom of each railcar, while the train continues to travel at a minimal speed to allow full unloading, the DEP noted.
“This upgrade will increase the rate of unloading from 1,500 tons per hour to 3,000 tons per hour,” the agency said in an engineering evaluation report. “A belt feeder will regulate the feed rate from the train to the conveying system at a maximum 3,000 tons per hour. The conveying system will be able to load out to either an existing stacking tube, to a new stacking tube, or split the material so that up to 1,500 tons per hour is fed into the existing conveyor system. The material at the new stacking tube will then be reclaimed through the existing stacking tubes reclaim system. Currently, there are two existing stacking tubes located in the coal pile that will remain in place.”
Once the coal is discharged through the new radial stacking tube within the existing coal pile, a bulldozer will be used to push the coal where it can be blended and reclaimed into the existing crusher prior to being fed into the boilers. The system will be used concurrently with the existing mine conveying system and truck deliveries. The existing rotary dumper will be removed.
“Once complete, the RDRU will have the capability to deliver Powder River Basin coal and Illinois Basin bituminous coal to the plant,” said the DEP. “The system will incorporate a fogging system and enclosed conveyors to control particulate matter emissions.”
The DEP report added about the PRB and Illinois Basin coals: “Because these coals have different physical properties (mainly silt and moisture content) their emission profiles differ when estimating emissions from material handling. Therefore, Allegheny estimated emissions that would result from using each coal exclusively. The permit will limit emissions according to the type of coal used with the caveat in no case shall maximum annual emissions exceed the amount estimated by the overall worst case scenario (PRB).” PRB coal is notoriously dusty, thus its status as the worst-case scenario.
The FirstEnergy website said that Harrison has three 661-MW coal-fired units that produce a total of 1,983 MW of electricity. The plant uses more than 5 million tons of coal annually.
The U.S. Energy Information Administration database shows that in July, all of the coal delivered to Harrison was from northern West Virginia mines, with those deliveries from CONSOL Energy (Robinson Run mine), RFI Energy (Rager mine) and Anker/Arch Coal (#4 mine). Notable is that FirstEnergy/Allegheny have been in a long-running court battle with Arch and predecessor company International Coal Group about deliveries of truck coal from a nearby mine to the Harrison plant.