Basin, Corn Belt target Wisdom Unit 1 coal-to-gas conversion

Basin Electric Power Cooperative said May 24 that the 38-MW Wisdom Station Unit 1 near Spencer, Iowa, is “going back to its roots” with a planned conversion by mid-2014 to burn natural gas rather than bituminous coal.

At their May board meeting, Basin Electric’s directors approved a resolution to make the conversion.

The Wisdom Station Unit 1 is owned by Corn Belt Power Cooperative, a Class A member system of Basin Electric. When Corn Belt Power became a Basin Electric member in 2009, its generating resources were turned over to Basin Electric for dispatch. Corn Belt employees still remain at the plant for operations.

Becky Kern, Basin Electric manager of utility planning, said that new environmental rules won’t allow the unit to operate using coal without the addition of expensive environmental controls. “For a generating unit this small, it isn’t economical to add the necessary controls to meet new environmental rules. But it is economical to convert the unit back to burn natural gas,” she said. “This unit provides much needed capacity for Basin Electric and its member systems, and rather than shut it down, the decision to convert back to natural gas is a justified action.”

Adjacent to Unit 1 is the station’s Unit 2, a dual-fuel, 80-MW peaker. It began operating in 2004 and can burn either natural gas or fuel oil. Unit 2 is jointly owned by Basin Electric and Corn Belt Power.

Unit 1 began operating in 1960 and was designed to burn both coal and natural gas, said Kathy Taylor, a spokesperson at Corn Belt Power. Then in the 1970s, due to natural gas shortages, the main natural gas supply was blocked off and since then the only natural gas burned in the boiler was from igniters for the coal burners.

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.