Fourth quarter 2012 was a complete bust for Elm Road coal units

The coal-fired Elm Road Units 1 and 2 were both offline for all of the fourth quarter of 2012, with Unit 2 down the entire time for maintenance, and Unit 1 down for maintenance and also due to being in “economic reserve,” said WE Energies in a fourth-quarter status report on the Elm Road project filed Jan. 30 at the Wisconsin Public Service Commission.

The PSC in 2003 authorized construction of Elm Road Units 1-2, each of which have a capacity of 615 MW and are fired by coal. The commission also required these quarterly updates. Elm Road is an expansion of the existing Oak Creek coal plant and is located to the north of the existing units. Turnover and achievement of commercial operation of Unit 1 (including common systems) and Unit 2 was completed on Feb. 2, 2010, and Jan. 12, 2011, respectively.

By unit, the Jan. 30 report said:

  • Unit 1 – On Nov. 12 this unit entered a maintenance outage to perform maintenance on several critical valves, such as the first stage superheat attemporating valve, low pressure bypass valve, and valves related to the reheat temperature regulating sprays. The maintenance outage ended on Dec. 13. The unit was in economic reserve status for all other periods during the fourth quarter.
  • Unit 2 – The planned (annual) outage which started on Sept. 15 continued through the fourth quarter until Jan. 9. During the outage, critical equipment was inspected to identify any issues prior to the end of the warranty period. During the outage the turbine was disassembled for inspection. Similar to Unit 1, corrosion deposits were found on the turbine blading which led to the removal of the blades from the rotor for inspection, cleaning and subsequent reassembly. Warranty claims were filed for this work. Also, during an inspection of the induced draft fans corroded fan hubs were identified. The hubs were subsequently replaced prior to reassembly of the fans. It was concluded that the corrosion is the result of acid in the flue gas. A consultant has been hired to help investigate and test a potential long‐term solution to this problem. Warranty claims have also been filed for this work. Similar to a previous outage on Unit 1, the flue gas desulfurization (absorber vessel) was lined with a highly corrosion‐resistant material. This is considered a permanent solution to the absorber vessel corrosion problem.

Utility advances coal blending plan at Elm Road

The utility, a unit of Wisconsin Energy (NYSE: WEC), has separately said it is planning to add the capability for the two Elm Road units to fire sub-bituminous Powder River Basin coal in blends with their normal coals, which are primarily out of the Pittsburgh coal seam in Northern Appalachia from suppliers like CONSOL Energy (NYSE: CNX).

The utility, also known as Wisconsin Electric Power, applied Jan. 18 at the Michigan Public Service Commission for a limited waiver at the relatively new Elm Road Generating Station (ERGS) Units 1 and 2 that would allow those units to burn PRB coals. Wisconsin Electric, which has some Michigan ratepayers, has also indicated this plan to the Wisconsin Public Service Commission. The limited waiver that Wisconsin Electric is seeking in Michigan is of the performance standard established in a June 2012 order to facilitate testing, inspections and physical and operational changes needed to provide enhanced fuel flexibility at ERGS Units 1 and 2.

“Increasing fuel flexibility at ERGS will result in significant benefits to customers and the public by delivering substantial fuel cost savings, improved diversity and security of fuel supply, and reduce allowable emission rates for the major criteria air pollutants,” the utility told the Michigan PSC. “However, increasing fuel flexibility at ERGS requires testing, inspections and implementation of physical and operational changes. During the period these activities are being carried out, the Equivalent Availability Factor (‘EAF’) for ERGS is likely to be reduced. To avoid potentially penalizing the Company for implementing enhanced fuel flexibility at ERGS, Wisconsin Electric requests that the Commission grant a limited waiver of the application of the performance standard to exclude from the calculation of the ERGS’s annual average EAF any reduction in its EAF attributable to the testing, inspections, and physical and operational changes needed to provide enhanced fuel flexibility at ERGS.”

The original 2004 Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources air pollution control construction permit for ERGS identified bituminous coal as the primary design fuel. Since that time, the cost of sub-bituminous coal as delivered to the adjacent Oak Creek power plant site has become significantly more competitive versus bituminous coal. Enhancing the fuel flexibility of ERGS to include sub-bituminous coal is projected to result in significant fuel cost savings, which under the Michigan Power Supply Cost Recovery Clause will be passed along to retail customers.

In order to implement fuel flexibility at ERGS, it will be necessary to test the plant’s systems and equipment with gradually increasing blends of sub-bituminous and bituminous coals. During the first quarter of 2013, Wisconsin Electric said it anticipates testing would commence by burning in Unit 2 a blend of approximately 20% sub-bituminous coal and 80% bituminous coal. Once Wisconsin Electric is confident in the results and capability of the unit to handle a particular percentage blend, it will slowly increase the percentage of sub-bituminous coal in the blend.

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.