Future electrical power generation will not be from coal
By SUE SUCHYTA
Sunday Times Newspapers
WYANDOTTE – The City Council approved $1.375 million for the removal of a BASF steam line and obsolete power plant equipment following its conversion from coal to natural gas for power generation.
Two contracts were approved at the March 26 council meeting: $74,956 to Seaway Mechanical Contractors Inc., to remove and cap the abandoned BASF steam line, and $1.3 million to North American Dismantling Corp. for the removal of obsolete coal-burning power plant equipment, including stacks, bag houses, ash hoppers and silos, coal belts and transfer towers, and coal reclaim areas.
Seaway is BASF’s vendor for other steam line work, which led Charlene Hudson, WMS director of Power Supply and Distribution, to concur that using them as a single source for the old steam line removal would ease deconstruction issues.
The steam line removal bid by Seaway does not include premium overtime, lead or asbestos abatement, delays due to traffic conditions or nearby Henry Ford Wyandotte Hospital schedules or traffic, delays due to city permits, inspections or bonds, or delays caused by BASF.
Hudson said the steam line being removed was installed in 2005, and does not contain asbestos, which the Environmental Protection Agency banned as spray insulation in 1973 under the Clean Air Act.
“We are just looking to bring down the overhead portion of the abandoned steam line, and get it capped appropriately, and BASF is in agreement,” Hudson said.
Mayor Joseph Peterson said he was glad to be able to remove the line.
“Thank God we’re taking it down, because that could be a dangerous thing if something happens with the overhead, if something falls from it,” Peterson said.
Hudson said they needed to cap the end of the line so no steam from the BASF generation enters the old supply line from WMS.
When the old steam line is removed, Hudson said WMS will coordinate with the hospital and the Police Department to shut the affected area of DeSana Drive.
The removal of the BASF steam line follows the December 2016 discontinuation of steam service from Wyandotte Municipal Services to BASF, an economic decision on the part of WMS, made when it became more advantageous to buy power off the grid than to generate it on site, which had generated steam for BASF.
BASF had two years to weigh its options before choosing to recommission its steam generation plant, which had been mothballed in 2005, and was re-opened in December 2016 following a more than $10 million investment to convert the old BASF steam generation plant from coal-burning to natural gas.
WMS was under governmental mandate to eliminate the pollutants generated with its coal-burning plant, which are believed to contribute to global warming, and when natural gas prices dropped due to its increased availability due to fracking, the switch from coal to natural gas was initiated.
“In the renewal operating permit, we only have natural gas,” Hudson said. “We were given no option to keep the coal.”
Peterson reminded the council of the federal clean air guidelines the city was mandated to meet.
“Now we are completely out of the coal business,” Peterson said. “Basically, it goes back to the EPA with the settlement the city had gotten into. It is a movement in the right direction.”
Hudson said boiler No. 8 was shuttered with the EPA settlement, and boiler No. 7 was taken out of service because of the bag house issue.
A bag house is a fabric filter air pollution control device that remove particles from the gas byproducts of electrical production processes by collecting the particles on the surface of filter bags.
Hudson said WMS is removing the obsolete equipment so it is not liable to maintain it, for safety issues and aesthetics. She said it would cost $100,000 just to paint boiler No. 8’s coal belt. Maintaining the infrastructure of the obsolete equipment would cost even more.
“We don’t want to get to a point where we have an issue,” Hudson said. “The money was part of the bond, and we want to make sure we leave it better than we found it, because we have the funds to do it.”
Hudson said removing the obsolete equipment also creates room for future investment.
“We switched over to natural gas, and in doing so, issued a renewable operating permit that totally removes coal,” Hudson said. “We are looking at new technology, and we are looking at storage batteries, wind, solar and other options.”
Because natural gas is not renewable, it does not fulfill government requirements that a percentage of WMS power comes from renewable sources, which from a practical standpoint for WMS are most likely to be derived from solar, wind, and methane landfill gas for electrical power generation.
Fracking, which has increased access to natural gas in Michigan’s northern Lower Peninsula, has raised concerns that the process could contaminate drinking water.
Councilman Leonard Sabuda said Bishop Park will be cleaner without a coal pile adjacent to it.
Hudson said WMS put gravel atop the former coal pile to alleviate the spread of coal dust.
Sabuda noted that coal delivery by boat will also be a thing of the past.
“There was some talk about the Corps of Engineers coming in to dredge by the power plant, and without the coal boats coming in, we don’t need to do that any more,” Sabuda said.
Hudson said WM doesn’t anticipate change orders for the decommissioning and removal of the obsolete plant equipment.
“We are pretty confident that they can get in on our time frame and get out and allow us to move forward on other projects,” Hudson said.
Peterson said the city has to clean up its mess if it expects others to clean up their messes.
“If it is sitting there, it costs a lot of money to maintain it,” Peterson said.
Hudson said at present, natural gas prices are stable. She also said that any equipment that can be used elsewhere on the site has been identified, but most of it is coal-specific to the extent that it cannot be used with natural gas power generation equipment.
Hudson said the vendors who bid on the decommissioning and removal of the obsolete equipment were familiar with the site, and WMS did not anticipate any cost overruns on the project.
For more detailed information about the projects, go to the city’s website for the city council agenda packet for the March 26 city council meeting (click here), and look at pages 26 to 31 for the steam pipe removal, and pages 39 to 49 for the obsolete equipment deconstruction and removal.
(Sue Suchyta can be reached at [email protected].)