Wisconsin PSC takes comment on Columbia coal plant upgrades

The Public Service Commission of Wisconsin is taking public comment until Dec. 9 on a draft memorandum that its staff produced in its look at a July 31 application from three utilities for upgrades at the Columbia Energy Center power plant.

Wisconsin Power and Light (WPL), Wisconsin Public Service Corp. (WPSC) and Madison Gas and Electric (MG&E) filed an application for a Certificate of Authority (CA) to replace and upgrade the coal pulverizers and steam turbines at Columbia.

The turbines for Unit 1 and Unit 2 were installed in 1975 and 1978 respectively. For those units, there are twelve total coal pulverizers that would be replaced. The turbines have begun to show signs of wear and degradation that require more than the industry standard maintenance and inspection cycles to continue operation in the future.

The applicants propose to upgrade the turbines and replace coal pulverizers with upgraded technology rather than attempt to replace the equipment with like technology. The proposed improvements are expected to cost $130m, but, if the efficiency and energy margin increases are realized as expected by the applicants, the project would have a payback within five years of its full operation.

Plant owners have already gotten approvals for heavy Columbia spending

In 2011, the commission approved significant upgrades at the Columbia Energy Center in the form of $627m in pollution control projects. In 2012, the commission approved the replacement of the cooling towers at Columbia at an approximate cost of $19m. It is expected that the Columbia Energy Center may also require the installation of a selective catalytic reduction (SCR) system for NOx control in 2018 at a significant cost.

The steam turbine upgrade portion of the project includes installing fully bladed high pressure (HP), intermediate pressure (IP), and low pressure (LP) rotors, HP, IP, and LP inner casings, steam seals, and related control, performance, and safety system enhancements. The pulverizer portion of the project includes removal of the existing pulverizer maintenance platforms and support structures, demolition and removal of the existing pulverizers and motor pedestals, installation of new pulverizer and motor pedestals, installation of new pulverizers with dynamic classifiers and motors, installation of a new seal air system, and installation of a new inerting steam, seal air system, instrument air, and cooling water piping system.

After the issuance of a Notice of Investigation, several entities requested party status in this case. The Citizens’ Utility Board, RENEW Wisconsin and the Wisconsin Industrial Energy Group requested to intervene without comment on the application. RENEW also filed comments on the Environmental and Economic Scoping Statement in which it indicated an objection to the addition of coal capacity that the upgrades would provide.

The International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers requested to intervene and indicated its support for the project both on behalf of its members, many of whom work at Columbia, and on the basis that it believes the project will have a positive economic benefit.

The applicants are proposing to complete the project by the second quarter of 2017 with material procurement beginning in the second quarter of 2014.

Current nameplate capacities for each unit are 512 MW and 511 MW

The Columbia Energy Center consists of two units – Units 1 and 2 – each of which is a tangentially-fired boiler and an associated turbine generator. The nameplate capacities for Units 1 and 2 are 512 MW and 511 MW, respectively.

The facility has two General Electric turbines which were installed during the construction of Unit 1 in 1975 and Unit 2 in 1978. It also has twelve Combustion Engineering (now Alstom) coal pulverizers, six per unit, which were installed during the construction of Unit 1 and Unit 2.

U.S. Energy Information Administration data shows that Columbia earlier this year was taking Powder River Basin coal from suppliers like Arch Coal (NYSE: ACI), Cloud Peak Energy (NYSE: CLD) and Alpha Natural Resources (NYSE: ANR).

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.