Power Workers’ Union applauds Thunder Bay coal-to-biomass plan

The Ontario Energy Minister’s plan to convert the coal-fired Thunder Bay Generating Station (GS) of Ontario Power Generation to advanced biomass is a step in the right direction and will deliver on plans to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, said the Power Workers’ Union (PWU) in a Nov. 18 statement.

For some time, the PWU, which represents most unionized power workers in Ontario, has promoted the environmental and economic benefits of using domestically sourced, renewable, carbon-neutral biomass as a fuel in Ontario’s former coal stations.

“Europe’s electricity sector has been benefitting from the use of carbon-neutral biomass, much of it imported from Canada, for decades, said Don MacKinnon, PWU President. “Ontario’s vast farm and forest sourced biomass—wood wastes, agricultural residues and purpose grown crops—provides our province with a unique energy advantage.”

Converting Ontario’s coal stations to use 100% biomass or using it along with natural gas delivers many benefits for Ontarians, the union said. Unlike intermittent wind and solar generation, biomass-generated electricity can be relied upon at times of peak demand and when the wind isn’t blowing or the sun isn’t shining. The cost of conversion is a much cheaper option than building new natural gas plants and recycles existing generation and transmission assets while helping to reduce Ontario’s dependence on imported fossil fuels.

MacKinnon noted that the coal-to-biomass conversion plans for Atikokan GS and Thunder Bay GS is great news for the host communities for those plants.

Ontario Power Generation (OPG) has received a five-year contract for the Thunder Bay station to generate electricity using this world leading technology. Modifications to the plant will begin in 2014 with operations expected to commence in early 2015. The 306-MW Thunder Bay station is located in the City of Thunder Bay.

The PWU also recognizes OPG’s research and development work that has helped verify and support the minister’s decision. In 2009, OPG developed a Biomass/Repowering Plan for the 211-MW Atikokan, Thunder Bay, 950-MW Lambton and 1,880-MW Nanticoke coal stations. OPG also completed successful test operations at these stations. The successful, first-of-its-kind 100% advanced biomass test was completed at Thunder Bay in September of this year.

“Existing analyses clearly show that Ontario can realize even more benefits by converting units at the Nanticoke and Lambton stations to biomass and natural gas, concludes MacKinnon. “And that’s why we will continue advocate for these conversions.”

The Ontario Ministry of Energy announced Nov. 15 that Ontario will achieve its goal to eliminate coal-fired generation before the end of 2014. Over the next year, the Thunder Bay will stop burning coal and be converted to use advanced biomass. Thunder Bay will be the first advanced biomass station in the world that was formerly a coal plant and will have a five-year contract to generate electricity.

By 2014, Thunder Bay will be the last coal-fired station operating in the province. OPG closed the coal-fired Lambton Generating Station in October 2013 and will close the coal-fired Nanticoke Generating Station by the end of 2013.

Advanced biomass is derived from forest or agricultural sources and has similar characteristics to coal. It has better transportation, storage, and combustion characteristics than traditional biomass, the ministry noted. Advanced biomass emissions contain about 75% less NOx than coal emissions and virtually no SO2.

The Atikokan Biomass Conversion project is expected to be completed on schedule by August 2014. As of Sept. 30, construction of two storage silos was completed. In addition, all 15 redesigned burners have been installed and commissioning of the combustion systems has begun. 

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.