By: Emily Haggstrom Issue: Rebuilding Our Infrastructure Section: Business
Dry Forks Station – Will it be the Last Coal-Based Power Plant?
Coal is as much a part of our past as it is our future. The Greeks used it to fabricate metal, Aztecs used it as fuel and the Britain’s used it during the occupation of the Roman’s and throughout the earliest stages of the monarchy. Coal is the very foundation of our early economic progress in the United States, providing basic domestic needs, transportation options, and production of raw materials as well as power.
As an abundant natural resource, coal has continued to serve as the primary source of energy to produce electricity. And although our country continues its environmental movement, making strides towards more clean technologies to provide electric power, our nation as a whole still relies heavily on the power generated from coal and its low-cost production.
And while the need for electricity continues to rise along with the costs, it is more important than ever for requisite low-cost, reliable, time tested methods of production that are still in high demand. And while many Americans would prefer green sources of energy, the cost to benefit ratio doesn’t fit the pockets for most of those same individuals.
Federal regulations have been strengthened around coal-based operations and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has proposed new standards to protect the quality of air and water while preserving the land as much as possible in its original state before any reclamation occurs. These statutes and standards have made it increasingly hard for companies like Basin Electric and other coal-based energy producers to acquire permitting to create infrastructure for low-cost electricity options desired by many rural Americans.
Although grant money, private equity and government subsidies are being directed towards clean energy, research continues to be made regarding continuous improvements in ultra-low emissions from coal-based electricity. By working towards advanced emissions controls, a suite of new technology has become available and will continue to be refined to help deliver clean-coal fueled electricity.
“Coal is the most available, reliable and affordable energy resource that this country has,” said U.S. Senator John Barrasso.
In a 2002 Power Requirement Study, Basin Electric and its member facilities evaluated the need for generation based on load requirements with a 10-year perspective. The group forecasted the need for a new facility between 2008 and 2011 to meet the growing need of the local communities served by these member cooperatives. After three years of a rigorous permitting process necessary to meet the requirements for impact alleviation and a review and analysis of over 12,000 pages by the Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality (WYDEQ); which ultimately led to a subsequent federal lawsuit, Basin Electric was issued a “complex, highly technical permit”. “Issuing a permit for a plant like this is a monumental undertaking. Staff from WYDEQ reviewed hundreds of documents, attended hearings, and spent countless hours analyzing technical data regarding the environmental controls for this power plant. Wyoming has some of the strictest environmental rules in the country,” said Ron Harper, Basin Electric CEO and General Manager.
Once the permit was issued, project development ensued. In just four years, with a workforce of 1,300 at its peak and over six million hours worked without lost time injury, the mine-mouth operation finally opened. By strategically locating the facility next to the Powder Basin subbituminous coal mine, Basin Electric helped eliminate rail expenses over a long-term haul for lower quality coal to help keep costs down and quality up.
“You can build clean coal-based power plants, we’ve done it with Dry Forks,” said Daryl Hill, Media Relations Supervisor for Basin Electric, “The DEQ wrote us a very good permit and Dry Forks is the first of its kind to have the environmental standards that it does. It’s a great plant on the front end in terms of production and on the back end in terms of the environmental controls and we’re very proud of that and we think it will set a precedent for other plants moving forward.”
The Strength of Dry Forks Station
In what could be considered a perfect Wyoming morning, without a cloud in the sky, the sun shone bright and a light breeze danced past more than 1,100 people as dignitaries cut the ribbon and dedicated what some believe to be the last coal-based power plant in the United States. It was a defining moment for the people of Gillette, the state of Wyoming and the nation as a whole to stand witness to the possible historic event.
Speaking tongue-in-cheek, Gillette Mayor Tom Murphy said, “Not only do we (Wyoming) have electricity, but without Wyoming, you wouldn’t have any. This plant provides jobs for hard-working Americans. Producing electricity takes hard work and coal helps make this country great.”
Utilizing advanced coal technology to meet the stringent requirements of the WYDEQ and the EPA, the new Dry Forks station features an “air-cooled condenser, the largest in North America, which works as a large radiator cooling water without losing the water to evaporation.” The bag-house along with a high efficiency circulating fluid bed scrubber to help reduce pollutants such as mercury, along with an accompanying removal system is the first of its kind in the industry; add in 20 LO NOx burners equipped with environmental controls and the station is poised to meet its permit limits.
The $1.35 billion Dry Forks Station, six miles north of Gillette was built to provide enough wholesale power to member cooperatives in 135 counties over a nine state territory that will supply electricity to over 308,000 homes. More than $336 million was invested in environmental controls with an accompanying budget of $5 million annually to operate those controls. Basin Electric is proud to employ 85 fulltime employees who are supported by local vendors and contractors.
“Coal from Wyoming has fueled American dreams. As we think about this, it’s grand to see a power plant up and running in the midst of other coal plants across the country being shut down,” said Governor Matt Mead speaking about how low-cost electricity helps maintain a quality of life. “We hope this is a sign of many more to come.”
And while the immediate future suggests otherwise, Basin Electric and its Dry Forks station will continue to mine the local subbituminous coal that the region is known for, providing low-cost electricity to nine rural electric systems that provide electricity to around 2.8 million consumers. “The energy from this power plant is not only electricity but human energy to keep it going,” said Powder River Energy Corporation CEO Mike Easley.