Sierra Club pushes for faster coal retirement at Crystal River

The Sierra Club and Earthjustice on June 27 applauded Duke Energy (NYSE: DUK) for a decision by Duke Energy Florida to retire Units 1 and 2 at its Crystal River power plant, but slammed an effort to keep them going during the 2016-2020 period.

In a filing at the Florida Public Service Commission (PSC), the groups asked that the company and PSC put these units on a path to retirement by 2016, and to replace them with clean energy solutions like solar power and energy efficiency that are abundant and affordable in Florida.

Duke Energy has committed to phase out the Crystal River Units 1 and 2 by 2020 at the latest, because it is the cheapest option for the company and it’s customers in Florida. But, Duke is now stalling about closing the units earlier than that, seeking state approval of a Powder River Basin/western bituminous coal blend to reduce emissions instead of crafting an affordable, reasonable plan to phase out the units by 2016, the club said.

Notable is that Duke has no short-term plans to shut the newer coal-fired Crystal River Units 4 and 5, which got relatively recent emissions retrofits, including SO2 scrubbers, and are in the utility’s plans for the long-term.

“The Crystal River plant has seen the end of the road,” said Kelly Martin, Beyond Coal campaign representative with the Sierra Club. “Duke Energy has shown in its own analysis that phasing out this obsolete, dirty facility is by far the best option for our pocketbooks. Retiring the plant by 2016 is the best option for our air quality, too. We don’t need four more years of pollution. Duke Energy should stop stalling, and move forward now to help Tampa Bay homes and businesses become much more efficient and to make solar power available and affordable for its customers.”

The Sierra Club and Earthjustice made these requests through comments on Duke Energy Florida’s proposed ten-year site plan, which serves as its long-range planning process for electricity generation, and which must be approved by the PSC.

Duke moving forward with coal test as short-term life extension

The Florida Department of Environmental Protection, in the meantime, began taking comment on June 14 on a draft approval for Duke Energy Florida (which recently changed its name from Progress Energy Florida) to test new coals at Units 1 and 2 of Crystal River. Crystal River Unit 3 is a shut and about to be permanently decommissioned nuclear facility.

Units 1 and 2 are tangentially-fired, dry bottom pulverized coal-fueled boilers with gross capacity ratings of 440.5 MW and 523.8 MW, respectively. The units commenced commercial operation in 1966 and 1969, respectively.

“The test burn program conducted on units 1 and 2 at the Crystal River Energy Complex is an attempt to reduce overall emissions such as particulate matter, acid gases, and mercury,” said a DEP permit document. “The results of the test burn program will determine the potential for units 1 and 2 to comply with the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards (MATS). New coal and coal blends consisting up to 40 percent Powder River Basin (PRB) coal with 60 percent West Bituminous (WB) will be fired in the boilers. The test burn program will also have additional temporary post combustion controls such as hydrated lime injection and activated carbon injection upstream to the electrostatic precipitator.”

In April 1 testimony filed at the Florida PSC, Benjamin Borsch, employed by Duke Energy Florida as Director of Integrated Resource Planning and Analytics, said the company has decided to retire, not retrofit, the coal-fired Units 1-2 at the Crystal River power plant.

The utility is evaluating alternative fuel options that would allow Crystal River Units 1 and 2 to continue operating in compliance with MATS for a limited period of time. If these tests are successful, it may be possible for PEF to extend Crystal River Units 1 and 2 operations to the 2018-2020 timeframe while still being in compliance with MATS.

MATS first takes effect in April 2015, with two one-year extensions of that deadline possible under certain circumstances.

Here are net generating capacity, plus projected capacity factors and coal burn figures for each Crystal River coal unit in 2013, as previously filed by the company with the Florida commission.

  • Unit 1, 376 MW, 11.4% capacity factor, 165,226 tons of coal burn;
  • Unit 2, 497 MW, 24% capacity factor, 459,548 tons of coal burn;
  • Unit 4, 727 MW, 67% capacity factor, 1.87 million tons of coal burn; and
  • Unit 5, 706 MW, 70.2% capacity factor, 1.93 million tons of coal burn.

The Crystal River plant has traditionally been fired with Central Appalachia coal. U.S. Energy Information Administration data shows that the plant got its coal in the first quarter of this year from these suppliers, all from eastern Kentucky origins: B&W ResourcesArch Coal SalesJames River CoalBlackhawk Mining and Alpha Natural Resources (from former Massey Energy operations).

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.