NRG Energy files Dunkirk coal-to-gas conversion details

The Dunkirk Power LLC unit of NRG Energy (NYSE: NRG) in April 1 filed with the New York State Public Service Commission an environmental assessment report on the planned coal-to-gas conversion of its Dunkirk power plant.

Last December, Dunkirk Power worked out a deal with various parties, including state officials, for this gas conversion project. 

“The Dunkirk Gas Addition Project consists of the addition of gas burning capability (gas burners) at the existing Dunkirk Station Units 2, 3 and 4 and installation of a natural gas lateral to provide natural gas to the Station from an existing interstate pipeline,” said the environmental assessment.

“The Dunkirk Gas Addition Project ensures the future economic viability of the plant,” the company added. “Adding natural gas capabilities to the Dunkirk plant will enable NRG to continue to maintain safe and reliable power generation but at a reasonable cost. The project will help meet reliability needs, reduce emissions, relieve Western New York congestion, reduce costs for consumers, retain local jobs, create temporary construction jobs, stabilize the local property tax base, and improve the local economy. In addition, stabilization of the grid facilitates planning and upgrading the grid over a period of years thus eliminating the need to complete multiple projects in a compressed period.”

Keeping the plant on-line also provides National Grid with the flexibility to defer some transmission reinforcements that otherwise would be needed for reliability if Dunkirk were to close, the company added.

The New York Independent System Operator (NYISO) has stated that having Dunkirk Units 2, 3 and 4 on-line will provide greater operational flexibility at the Niagara Power Project and allow for more power imports from the Ontario control area, which would provide the NYISO increased opportunity to call on these resources for economic or emergency energy during high load conditions, the company said.

“According to the NYISO, generation at Dunkirk relieves certain system constraints in western New York that otherwise limit the output of the New York Power Authority Niagara Power Project Hydroelectric Plant,” it said. “With some relaxation of the system constraints, a greater proportion of the energy produced in NYISO Zone A is renewable, emissions-free hydropower than would not be the case if Dunkirk were not operating.”

The Dunkirk re-fueling project will provide nominally 435 MW of electricity to improve the reliability and relieve congestion of the electric system in western New York and bring lower electric supply costs to consumers, while using cleaner burning natural gas, the company said.

Coal capability would be retained for any major emergency need

This natural gas burner portion of the project consists of modifying Dunkirk Units 2, 3 and 4 boilers to allow for the capability of burning 100% natural gas. The gas burners will be sized to meet the existing design capacity of the units. The currently permitted capabilities of firing on coal would remain, although the units would not have the ability to quickly switch fuel sources. “By maintaining the facility’s capability to fire on coal, it preserves the ability to support the power grid in an unexpected circumstance of a long term natural gas interruption,” the company explained.

Natural gas is available from numerous domestic and Canadian sources that enter New York by way of the interstate transmission gas lines. Long-term projections for natural gas availability indicate a stable gas supply out to 2035 when using both Low Shale Estimated Ultimate Recovery (EUR) and low Shale Recovery Reference (EIA 2011 Energy Outlook 2011). Tennessee Gas is one of the major operators of interstate natural gas lines and sources are in Texas and states bordering the Gulf of Mexico states.

The new natural gas transmission pipeline would extend from a new tap point location to be determined on the existing Tennessee Gas interstate pipeline in Chautauqua County, N.Y., to the Dunkirk Station, which is located on Lake Erie in the City of Dunkirk, Chautauqua County.

New York officials said in December 2013 that there will be a $150m conversion of the Dunkirk coal plant to natural gas. Under this agreement, the re-fueled facility, which will be in service by fall 2015 and be 435 MW in size, will improve the reliability of the electric system and bring lower electric supply costs to consumers, officials said. The agreement assures the operation of the plant for 10 years.

“This agreement will result in a larger, cleaner power plant at Dunkirk that will meet reliability needs, reduce costs for consumers, create jobs and stabilize the local property tax base,” New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said in a statement.

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.