Columbia coal plant owners get extra time to start plant upgrades

The Wisconsin Public Service Commission on Jan. 7 granted the co-owners of the coal-fired Columbia power plant a short delay on the start of work on the upgrades of coal pulverizers and steam turbines at the plant.

Wisconsin Power and Light, Wisconsin Public Service Corp. and Madison Gas and Electric had in January 2014 been approved by the PSC for a Certificate of Authority to upgrade the coal pulverizers and steam turbines at the Columbia Energy Center Units 1 and 2. The order had required a construction start within one year, which was by Jan. 8 of this year.

Then on Dec. 20 there was a request for a delay, with WPL parent Alliant Energy (NYSE: LNT) saying it is waiting for the receipt of a construction permit from the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, and once received the company will need to align the start of construction with a scheduled outage. The company anticipated that an extension until March 8, 2015, would be adequate to allow for both of these conditions to be met.

“Your request for an extension is granted,” said the Jan. 7 order. “Construction as described in Order Point 10 should now commence by March 8, 2015. If further extension of the date becomes necessary, please notify us as soon as possible.”

The Columbia upgrade project includes replacing twelve pulverizers and upgrading two steam turbines installed when the plant was constructed in the 1970s. Installing this newer technology is designed to increase the plant’s operating capacity by nearly 10%, bringing more low-cost electricity to utility customers. The investment in new technology and equipment is expected to be around $130m and will be shared by the three co-owners.

Columbia includes two coal-fired units with a total nameplate capacity of 1,023 MW. Unit 1 (512 MW) began operation in 1975, and Unit 2 (511 MW) in 1978.

“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 going forward,” said the Jan. 8, 2014, Wisconsin PSC approval. “Major components of the coal pulverizers have also reached the end of their useful life and require replacement. For these two units, the applicants propose to upgrade the turbines and replace 12 coal pulverizers with upgraded technology rather than replace the equipment with like technology. The applicants analyzed the proposed project and determined that if the expected efficiency and energy margin increases are realized, the project will have a payback within five years of its full operation.”

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.