The future of America’s coal industry may be sitting on a ridge just north of Morgantown, West Virginia, quietly building a reputation at the cutting edge of coal-based power generation.
Commissioned in December 2011 at a cost of $2.1 billion, Longview Power Plant is one of the nation’s three newest coal power plants. It is also the nation’s most efficient and cleanest. Longview is what is known as a mine-mouth plant – with a dedicated coal mine located literally next door providing its baseload fuel. Longview is also a “co-fired” plant, meaning it can burn both coal and natural gas, although coal is its primary fuel.
“Longview demonstrates what modern highly efficient clean coal-fired plant design and operation can be with full environmental compliance,” said Jeff Keffer, President and CEO of Longview Power, LLC said.
Longview features cutting-edge HELE (High Efficiency/Low Emissions) technology, including a state-of-the-art supercritical boiler, a high-efficiency steam generator, a best-in-class combustion system, and is has zero surface water discharge. One of the interesting features of Longview is that it can burn either coal or natural gas, and is started using natural gas. Despite its capability to burn both fuels, it is essentially a dedicated coal-fired plant. Sometimes the mix of natural gas has approached 20 percent, but Longview COO Steve Nelson said Longview’s delivered coal price is competitive with natural gas. The company does, however, actively manage the mix of coal and gas in order to take advantage of whichever fuel is cheapest on any given day according to Nelson.
Nelson noted that the gas pipeline to the plant can be subject to curtailments during peak season (winter). To ensure that start up fuel is always available, particularly in light of the new PJM Capacity Performance requirements, the plant installed the world’s largest mobile liquefied natural gas (LNG) system.
It is important to note that Longview is a mine-mouth facility, getting its coal from Mepco LLC, a mine operation located near to the plant. In fact, Longview was designed to be fully integrated with the mine and to utilize run-of-mine coal, a situation that allows Longview to avoid the costs of fuel preparation and large scale storage. Longview gets its coal from the Mepco mine by means of a 4.5 mile-long belt line that substantially reduces transportation costs. The conveyor also minimizes the environmental and traffic impacts of trucking on local communities.
Since its commissioning in 2011, Longview has invested another $120 million in improvements both to correct some problems uncovered in commissioning and to ensure reliability.
The improvements have resulted in a very high net plant efficiency of 39.5 percent. This allows the plant to produce full power using 17.5 percent less fuel than the average coal plant in the US. Alone, this saves Longview over $10 million per year in the plant’s operating cost.
In terms of pollution controls, the plant utilizes the very latest best available control technologies, including low NOx burners, scrubbers, acid mist reduction systems, particulate matter removal achieving up to 99 percent reduction of particulates, SO2 removal using wet flue gas desulfurization systems and Mercury and HAPS removal using MATS compliant ACQS equipment.
As a result, the plant achieves “orders of magnitude reductions” over conventional plants in SOx, NOx,and PM emissions. It also achieves a 20 percent reduction in CO emissions, according to Keffer.
“We’re cheap. Due to our low cost structure, efficiencies and consolidation with our coal supplier, we’re down with wind and hydro on our dispatch costs,” he said.
And being a low-cost electricity generator also means the plant’s equivalent availability factor (EAF) has been positively affected. Before Longview went through its rehabilitation, tube leaks and other problems caused the plant’s capacity to be in the low 70s – EAF was driving a poor capacity factor. Since all the modifications were completed, Longview’s 2016 EAF was 92.5 percent and capacity factor was 86 percent.
Longview’s Keffer, says bluntly that plants like Longview are the future for the nation’s coal industry and argues that building more like it should be the focus for the industry.
“Longview should be the future of coal in this country,” Keffer said. “These plants are relatively low cost, highly efficient, and highly reliable with very low emissions.”
“Regulations including the Clean Power Plan and the New Source Rule have blocked development of advanced clean coal technology power plants in America,” Keffer said. “As a result, the coal fleet averages 40+ years in age and is not competitive with CCGT’s based on cost, efficiency and emissions. Other countries including German and China have built even more advanced coal plants and achieve greater efficiencies with low emissions.”
Keffer said the Trump Administration intends to roll back regulations and will likely seek to repeal the Clean Power Plan or seek guidance from Congress regarding EPA’s authority to regulate CO2 under the Clean Air Act.
“The EPA also could rewrite the Clean Power Plan to focus on regulating CO2 emissions as actually permitted under the Clean Air Act using ‘best system of emissions reductions’ at the source (i.e. within the fence line of power plants) ,” Keffer said. “Longview demonstrates the ‘best system of emissions reductions’ for coal plants and is the plant to be replicated to maintain coal fired power in the USA.”
“By building advanced high efficiency low emissions coal fired plants, we could continue to use coal to provide reliable low cost electrical power while creating and preserving thousands of good paying jobs in the industry.”