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Repowering with Biomass

Waste fuels struggle despite coal’s decline.

Fortnightly Magazine - December 2010

use the units’ existing boilers, with only new burners and some conversion work to make the pulverizers suitable for biomass fuel. It also planned to convert the plant’s coal pipes to different diameters to facilitate transportation.

Efficiency challenges might’ve played a more significant role in the decision to kill the project. Like many other biomass conversions, the Burger plant would have suffered de-rating when exchanging 12,000-Btu/pound Eastern coal for 8,000 Btu biomass pellets. “We expect[ed] the plant’s 312 MW to drop to about 200 MW or 220 MW,” Lasky said—cutting output by about one-third. Lasky added, however, that coal-fired plants burning Powder River Basin coal might not experience such a significant drop in efficiency, because PRB coal contains about 8,800 Btus per pound.

FirstEnergy expected the conversion to cost about $200 million—which arguably is a good price for 200 MW of carbon-neutral generating capacity. In the final analysis, however, the company decided the project’s economics simply didn’t make sense in an environment of falling electricity prices.

Given the price pressures that cheap gas continues to exert, the market outlook seems unlikely to reverse itself before the economy brings major growth in electricity demand. In situations where the economics work, however, biomass repowering offers a potential future for coal-fired units that otherwise might face the Burger plant’s fate.