The Resurgence of Coal in Electric Power Generation

Fuel diversity for power generation is necessary for energy security, which is recognized by both industry and lawmakers. Tom Ridge, Secretary of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, was a supporter of energy security while serving as governor of Pennsylvania; he led Pennsylvania toward competitive electricity markets and supported the development of new generating capacity in Pennsylvania with an emphasis on fuel diversity [27]. The first major coal plant to be built in Pennsylvania in 20 years was dedicated during his tenure and will be operational in the spring of 2004. A 561 MW, fluidized-bed power plant burning bituminous coal wastes has been constructed at the Seward Station to replace an aging 30 MW, pulverized-coal, wall-fired boiler. Pennsylvania lawmakers are not the only ones who realize that new capacity fueled by a stable coal supply is essential as opposed to making virtually all new capacity dependent on natural-gas-fired units in light of the inherent price volatility of natural gas. Regulators, lawmakers, and industry in Wisconsin, Illinois, Iowa, Kentucky, North Dakota, Wyoming, South Carolina, Louisiana, and elsewhere are aggressively promoting diversification with coal [27].

Much of the new capacity is being built on brownfield sites (i.e., sites where industrial activities have been performed) because of existing permitting coupled with the presence of infrastructure such as rail or barge, water, and transmission access [27]. Some new capacity is being installed as replacements, such as at the Seward plant, while the rest is being installed at greenfield sites (i.e., new industrial sites). The plants being installed are using advanced combustion and emissions technology. The Seward plant, constructed by Reliant Energy, is utilizing fluidized-bed technology with ultra-low emissions. Peabody Energy is in the process of installing two pairs of 1500 MW pulverized coal-fired boilers at the Thoroughbred Energy Campus (Muhlenberg County, Kentucky) and Prairie State Energy Campus (Washington County, Illinois), and these boilers will be among the cleanest coal plants east of the Mississippi River [27,28]. One, possibly two, 500 MW units are being planned in North Dakota as part of the state's Vision 21 program to install ultra-clean boiler systems firing lignite [29]. These are but a few of the projects under way, and more are anticipated as the DOE's Clean Coal Power Initiative and Vision 21 Program proceed. Approximately 61,000 MW of coal-fired generating capacity is currently planned [6]. Figure 8-7 shows the anticipated annual capacity additions, and Table 8-1 summarizes the capacity additions by state [6].

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