Alstom lands contract for Boswell Unit 4 emissions project

Alstom said Aug. 29 that it has won a new contract to deliver an emission control system for Unit 4 of Minnesota Power’s Boswell Energy Center.

Once installed on the 585-MW coal-fired unit, Alstom’s NID semi-dry flue gas desulfurization system will cut mercury emissions by 90% and significantly curb emissions of SO2 and other pollutants.

“When completed, Boswell 4 and our recently retrofitted Boswell 3 will be two of the cleanest coal fired units in the nation,” said Al Hodnik, Chairman, President and CEO of ALLETE (NYSE: ALE), Minnesota Power’s parent company.

The Boswell 4 NID installation is part of Minnesota Power’s $350m effort to make the unit fully-compliant with both state and federal regulations. This project also is a key component of the company’s Energy Forward strategy that includes further reducing emissions at its existing plants (mostly coal) and additional generation from renewables and natural gas, creating a diverse energy mix of one-third coal, one-third renewables and one-third natural gas.

“A retrofitted Boswell 4 will help ensure the continuation of reliable and competitively priced baseload energy for our large industrial customers that fuel our region’s economic engine. This project will create 500 construction jobs and result in significant environmental benefits for years to come,” Hodnik said.

The project is pending Minnesota Public Utilities Commission approval. A decision is anticipated from the commission in September.

Alstom’s NID technology is an all-in-one emission control system that captures many of the most common pollutants associated with fossil fuel-fired power generation. Its design includes independent modules and a variable width, meaning it can be easily scaled up or down to meet power plant emission control requirements. At one-half the size of a standard spray dryer, NID is ideally suited for installation at existing power plants where space is limited, Alsto said.

The Boswell 4 project will be led by Alstom’s North American Environmental Control Systems (ECS) team based in Knoxville, Tenn. Alstom has to-date installed more than 60 NID systems worldwide including one in Delaware, one in Massachusetts and two in Pennsylvania. The Boswell project is Alstom’s fifth recent U.S. NID contract and the company currently is in the engineering stage of five additional U.S. projects scheduled to break ground in late 2013.

“America’s installed power plants represent a massive social investment and contribute heavily to our country’s economy,” said Jim Yann, Managing Director of Alstom’s North American Environmental Control Systems business. “Installing technology like the Boswell 4 NID system not only extends the lifetime of that investment, it protects our environment and contributes to America’s cleaner energy future.”

Originally commissioned in 1980, Boswell Unit 4 is one of the largest power generating units in the state of Minnesota. The full Boswell complex generates over 1,000 MW.

Boswell Unit 4 retrofit fits within larger resource plan

Minnesota Power told the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission on July 3 that its latest integrated resource plan (IRP) is still the way to go, despite some criticism by parties to the IRP case. The utility in the July 3 filing responded to comments from the state Department of Commerce–Division of Energy Resources, the Large Power Intervenors Group (LPI) and the Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy (MCEA). On March 1, Minnesota Power filed with the commission its 2013 IRP for the 2013-2027 timeframe.

Under the plan, transformation of the company’s resource base continues through investment in renewable generation, adding natural gas to the fuel portfolio, installing additional emissions-control technology at core, coal-fired assets while also reducing coal utilization at several baseload generating facilities, and maintaining strong energy conservation and demand side management programs for customers. The resulting fleet will be more flexible, efficient and diverse while reducing multiple emissions including carbon, the utility noted.

Minnesota Power’s Preferred Plan includes these primary actions:

  • Ceasing coal energy conversion at the 75-MW Taconite Harbor Unit 3 and refueling the 110-MW Laskin Energy Center (LEC) with natural gas in 2015;
  • Optimizing the company’s renewable energy supply with the evaluation of an additional 100 MW to 200 MW of competitive wind generation that would be installed in the next two to three years; and
  • Investigating, for inclusion in its next resource plan, an intermediate natural gas generation resource to meet expected capacity and energy needs in the post-2020 timeframe. Minnesota Power will use bilateral market purchase contracts with secured pricing in the 2014-2020 period as a bridge to implementation of a natural gas unit.

To clarify the treatment of the coal-fired Boswell Energy Center Unit 4 (BEC4) in its 2013 Plan and address the concern raised by MCEA, the utility provided an overview of the customer evaluation of the BEC4 Environmental Retrofit Project (BEC4 Project) and how it is aligned with the 2013 Plan.

Minnesota Power compared the BEC4 Project with a shutdown of BEC4 and the two possible natural gas replacement options. The BEC4 Project and the two natural gas replacement scenarios were then stressed over a range of planning sensitivities with the updated assumptions from the 2013 Plan. In only two sensitivities, including severely low and sustained natural gas prices (between $2 and $3/mmBtu for the entire planning period) and a high carbon regulation tax structure ($34 per ton), did a natural gas direct replacement begin to show benefits for customers.

Minnesota Power and joint BEC4 owner WPPI Energy completed a turbine conservation and efficiency project in 2010, increasing the BEC4’s capacity and energy output by more than 10%, or 60 MW while requiring no additional fuel. Continued operation of BEC4 will sustain this very significant conservation project.

“Minnesota Power is confident that moving forward with the BEC4 Project is in the best interest of its customers and that its evaluations are complete and robust,” the utility added. “At 585 MW of net capacity, BEC4 is the newest and single largest base load generator in Minnesota Power’s fleet, providing cost-effective and reliable power to Minnesota Power’s customer 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.”

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.