AEP’s Clinch River power plant in Virginia to convert from coal to gas

Source: PLATTS McGraw Hill Financial

Appalachian Power is seeking approval from state regulators in Virginia and West Virginia to spend about $65 million to convert two 240-MW coal-fired generating units at its 720-MW Clinch River baseload coal plant in southwestern Virginia to natural gas over the next three years.

Todd Burns, a spokesman for the American Electric Power subsidiary, said Friday that if regulators approve APCo’s request, one Clinch River unit will be switched to gas in September 2015, the other in February 2016. A third 240-MW coal unit will be shut down on June 1, 2014, he said, because of economic reasons.

Built in the 1950s, Clinch River, located on the river of the same name near Carbo in Russell County, is one of Columbus, Ohio-based AEP’s oldest operating coal plants.

“For more than 50 years, three generating units at the Clinch River plant have served Appalachian’s customers well,” Charles Patton, APCo’s president and chief operating officer, said in a statement. “However, they are not equipped to meet recently approved and anticipated environmental requirements and must shut down. Converting two of the Clinch units to natural gas and retiring the third is the best alternative to meet energy needs, taking into account economic and environmental considerations and diversifying the company’s power plant fleet.”

Another part of the planned project involves extending a natural gas pipeline to the plant. The pipeline would be constructed, owned and operated by a third party.

APCo said the conversion would cost substantially less than building a new combined-cycle gas plant or a combustion turbine peaking unit.

The utility told the Virginia State Corporation Commission the conversion would cost an average residential customer using 1,000 kW per month less than 50 cents a month once the gas units are operational.

If approved, the project also would create about 267 short-term and 117 long-term jobs, according to the company.

Burns said Clinch River burns about 400,000 short tons of coal annually. “The majority of the coal is from Virginia and it is blended with Western coal,” he said.

At one time, Clinch River was considered one of the world’s most efficient power plants. In 1960, it was rated first in efficiency and, in fact, became the first power plant to operate with a heat rate below 9,000 Btu/kWh for a full calendar year.

AEP has announced plans to retire more than 5,000-MW of older coal capacity because of new US Environmental Protection Agency rules.