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approaching compliance deadline coupled with an inability to raise the significant capital needed to build a newer high
efficiency combined cycle plant.
THE PROS AND CONS
OF FUEL SWITCHING
Since 2010, Babcock & Wilcox Power
OF CTG PLANTS
The most likely candidate for a coal-to-gas conversion are 50-plus year old
units, less than 300 megawatts in capacity and generally early generation sub-crit-ical utility boilers – the least efficient,
most-costly to operate and with the lowest overall capacity factor in the coal fleet.
The majority of these older, inefficient
units are located in the eastern United
States. Typically, these plants have limited
or no air quality control systems already
in place, and the cost of adding an AQCS
to comply with regulations is prohibitively high. Most plants west of the Mississippi River built in the 1960s or later aren’t as
attractive as candidates for fuel switching
since they are often larger, more efficient
and tend to burn Powder River Basin coal,
a cost effective fuel with a more favorable
emission profile than the bituminous
burned by many eastern plants.
Although old, many plants considered
for fuel switching still have a decade or
more of useful service life providing peaking capacity where and when it is needed.
These units are a valuable asset that power producers are not eager to abandon.
When a plant is closed, the owner gets no
value out of that asset going for ward, and,
in fact, it may become a costly liability.
The legacy costs created by residual coal
and oil at the site, on-going maintenance
and security, asbestos and other factors
can be very high.
So there is significant incentive to keep
those assets functioning in some way. If
an owner can convert and continue to
operate that plant on gas, it allows them
to continue to harvest some value from
these assets. It also allows the owner
to maintain a viable operating permit,
which would be lost when a plant is retired.
The converted gas-fired plant is also
ideally suited for deep load cycling to
meet fluctuations in demand to compliment the remaining coal fleet providing
baseload power generation.
Interestingly, MATS compliance and
state regulations – not the current push to
limit greenhouse gas emissions through
regulations like EPA’s proposed Rule
111(d) – have been the primary regulatory factors driving coal to gas conversions.
Utilities specifically looking to limit
GHG emissions may consider a coal to
gas conversion as a shorter term GHG
compliance option in the case of an