Co-owners seek expanded coal stockpile at Oak Creek/Elm Road site

Wisconsin Electric Power, Madison Gas and Electric, and WPPI Energy on Oct. 24 asked the Public Service Commission of Wisconsin for approval of a $62.1m project to expand the outdoor coal storage facilities and install a new stacker and reclaimer with attendant equipment at the adjacent Elm Road and Oak Creek power plants.

The Oak Creek generating site is comprised of two power plants: Oak Creek and the relatively new Elm Road. The plants are served by common fuel handling facilities known as Site Bulk Material Handling (SBMH).

The Oak Creek has a net generating capacity of approximately 2,400 MW. The two Elm Road units, having a combined net capacity of approximately 1,268 MW, are operated by WEPCO and are majority-owned by Elm Road Generating Station Supercritical LLC. MGE and WPPI each own 8.33%.

The four Oak Creek units, having a combined net capacity of 1,135 MW, are fully owned and operated by WEPCO.

The coal storage capacity of the Oak Creek generating site of approximately 750,000 tons is far below that of peers such as the Labadie Plant, which can store over 2 million tons, the application noted. For the Oak Creek generating site, a 90-day capacity is a prudent target given expected circumstances described in this application. This calls for total on-site storage capacity of approximately 1.5 million tons of coal, as compared to current capacity of 750,000 tons. The resulting metric of 625 tons/MW is well within accepted utility good operating practice, the utilities noted.

Expansion of coal storage and fuel handling capacity at the site is required to:

  • Support increased market demand for energy from Oak Creek and Elm Road;
  • Address consistent challenges with the pace and reliability of rail deliveries of coal;
  • Improve on-site storage capacity and the ability to offload trains in a timely fashion; and
  • Mitigate adverse net fuel cost impacts.

Expansion of coal storage and fuel handling capacity at the site will additionally support a new fuel blending project at Elm Road by providing sufficient coal storage and fuel handling capacity to sustain operations at higher blends of sub-bituminous coal. Sub-bituminous coal has a lower heat content than bituminous coal, so a coal storage facility would need to harbor more tons to achieve the same burn-day target as a stockpile with only bituminous coal.

Said the application about the Oak Creek Power Plant (OCPP) and Elm Road Generating Station (ERGS): “Market demand for power affects both plants. OCPP is a highly efficient, low-cost plant. The MISO market is calling more upon OCPP as its delivered fuel costs have decreased. WEPCO expects OCPP to be economically dispatched in virtually all hours when unit capacity is available for the foreseeable future, within the plant Heat Input (HI) limits, if sufficient coal is available. Thus, having sufficient on-site coal reserves will result in a reduction in net fuel costs. At the same time, the MISO market is also calling more upon ERGS. ERGS is fully operational and the Applicants expect it to also be economically dispatched in a large majority of hours when unit capacity is available for the foreseeable future. As with OCPP, the opportunity to reduce net fuel costs is dependent on a sufficient amount of on-site coal being available.”

The application echoed a consistent complaint this year from many coal-fired utilities about poor rail performance. “Since the beginning of 2014, WEPCO has focused on increasing deliveries beyond the historical delivery pace to meet market demand. A collaborative effort with the rail carrier has been put in place and progress has been made. However, in 2014, both fuel delivery inconsistency and systemic unloading challenges have significantly impaired generating unit dispatch. SBMH was originally designed to accept an average of 9 trains per week – considered realistic and achievable given the infrastructure improvements approved for the ERGS project. Until this year, with OCPP and ERGS both in high demand for the first time, such throughput from the Union Pacific Railroad (UPRR) and others had not actually been required and the complexities of maintaining such a pace had not been evident.”

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.