Wheelabrator plant retains coal – but for air permit purposes only

Under an air permit renewal for a Wheelabrator Portsmouth power plant in Virginia, coal-firing is being retained as an alternative operating scenario, but there are no apparent plans to take this plant off the refuse-derived fuel it has burned for several years.

That is a conclusion from reading the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality’s air permit renewal documents for this facility. The agency is taking comment until Sept. 25 on this permit renewal.

The facility is officially called the Wheelabrator Portsmouth Refused Derived Fuel Processing Facility & Waste to Energy Plant, and is located at Portsmouth, Va. The plant operates as a support facility for the nearby Norfolk Naval Shipyard.

The plant consists of four combustion trains in which refuse derived fuel (RDF), Non-Hazardous Solid Waste (liquid), or oil is combusted to produce steam and electricity. The primary fuels burned are RDF and Non-Hazardous Solid Waste with No. 2 fuel oil being used during startup only.

The four combustion trains are independent but can operate simultaneously. Each combustion train consists of a boiler, a spray dryer absorber, and a fabric filter. The utilization of these air controls, as well as good combustion practices, reduces the levels of Municipal Waste Combustor organics (dioxins/furans), acid gases (SO2 and hydrogen chloride), metals (particulate matter, opacity, cadmium, lead, and mercury), and carbon monoxide prior to exhausting through the stack.

An alternate operating scenario includes the receiving, storing and the handling of coal. “Coal has not been used at this facility since 2002 and its use has been phased out; meaning that the boilers are no longer capable of firing coal and no coal is stored on site,” the DEQ said. “However, the underlying PSD permit allows its use so all references to coal (both firing and handling) have been separated into an alternate operating scenario in this permit. All pollution control equipment listed in the primary operating scenario would be included in this operating scenario if they were to operate using this scenario.”

“When firing coal, the boilers are rated at 237 mmBtu/hr, which makes them too small to be applicable to NSPS Subpart D,” the agency noted. “They are not applicable to NSPS Da because they are not utility boilers. After a thorough research of the records, we have determined that the boilers are not subject to NSPS Subpart Db (as had been stated previously) because the facility ‘commenced’ construction on these units prior to the applicability date of June 19,1984. Therefore, there are no federal regulations applicable to the boilers when firing coal.”

Wheelabrator Technologies, a wholly owned subsidiary of Waste Management, purchased this plant from the Southeastern Public Service Authority in 2010. Said the Wheelabrator Technologies website: “Located in Portsmouth, Virginia, the Wheelabrator Portsmouth Inc. waste-to-energy facility provides dependable, environmentally safe disposal of municipal solid waste, while generating steam to meet the needs of the Norfolk Naval Shipyard and clean electricity for sale to the local utility. Owned and operated by Wheelabrator, Wheelabrator Portsmouth processes up to 2,000 tons per day of municipal solid waste generated in eight localities in the Hampton Roads region – Portsmouth, Norfolk, Chesapeake, Virginia Beach, Franklin, Suffolk, Southampton County and Isle of Wight County. Wheelabrator Portsmouth has an electric generating capacity of 60,000 kilowatts; the equivalent of supplying the electrical needs of 61,000 Virginian homes.”

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.