Does WV still have the most efficient coal-fired power plant? - WBOY.com: Clarksburg, Morgantown: News, Sports, Weather

Does WV still have the most efficient coal-fired power plant?

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GenPower's Longview advanced supercritical pulverized coal plant outside Morgantown was the nation's most efficient coal plant in 2011. GenPower's Longview advanced supercritical pulverized coal plant outside Morgantown was the nation's most efficient coal plant in 2011.
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Last November, Electric Light and Power magazine found the Longview power plant outside Morgantown to be the most efficient coal-fired plant in the U.S. fleet in 2011.

"GenPower's Longview plant was No. 1 on the top 20 list of coal generators ranked by heat rate," reads the caption under a photo illustrating the magazine's story on 2011 power plant operating performance.

"Heat rate" is a measure of power plant efficiency: heat units in per electricity units out. Less fuel in for a unit of electricity out means more efficient use of the fuel, so a lower heat rate translates to lower costs and lower emissions — important achievements for coal in an increasingly competitive and regulated industry.

Longview, an advanced supercritical pulverized coal plant that had just started up at the end of 2011, was listed in the Electric Light and Power story at its anticipated heat rate of 8,728 British thermal units per kilowatt-hour generated, or Btu/kWh — that's compared with a national coal fleet average of 10,000 or more Btu/kWh.

In practice, Longview's heat rate since has been a little higher.

"We've been able to run in the 8,700 range some months, but for all of 2012 we wound up at about 9,000," said Longview Power Vice President and General Manager Charles Huguenard.

That's because a power plant's heat rate is affected by a number of conditions, Huguenard said, including the technology, the qualities of the coal that's burned, and its operating conditions. Longview had a number of restarts in early 2012 because of some problems that had to be addressed, which he said is typical of the first year of operation of any power plant, and that reduced its efficiency.

Now that the startup issues are resolved, he expects a lower heat rate in 2013.

But AEP's John W. Turk Jr. station that started up in Arkansas in December may pose some competition.

It's the first plant in the nation to use ultrasupercritical technology: equipment that can take the highest temperatures and pressures in the industry, giving the greatest efficiencies.

"They can get up to probably 1,100 degrees instead of our 1,050 degrees, and maybe closer to 4,000 psi (pounds per square inch) pressure where we're at 3,800 psi," Huguenard said.

Turk was expected to impress. But it's operating even more efficiently than anticipated, according to AEP President and CEO Nicholas Akins, who spoke about it during the company's quarterly and annual earnings meeting on Feb. 15.

"We thought it would be about an 8,900 heat rate, but it's coming in at an 8,700 heat rate," Akins crowed. "That means less emissions, less carbon emissions, and certainly a very positive addition to the fleet for (AEP subsidiary) SWEPCO."

Huguenard said the reason Turk, with its higher temperatures and pressures, isn't operating still more efficiently than Longview probably has to do with the coals the two plants are burning.

Longview burns local Northern Appalachian coal, which has a heating value of close to 11,000 Btu/pound, he said, while the Powder River Basin coal the Turk plant is burning has a heating value of around 8,800 Btu/pound. That means more coal has to be handled and pulverized for the same heat content, and all that handling costs energy and reduces the efficiency.

"Every plant I've ever operated, when we made a switch to Powder River Basin coal, it hurts your heat rate a pretty good bit," Huguenard said. "There's a trade-off there where they're going to lose probably 400, 500 Btus (per kilowatt-hour heat rate), maybe more."

One other U.S. plant is in the running for most efficient.

Kansas City Power and Light, which started up its Iatan 2 supercritical plant in Missouri in 2010, called Huguenard late last year to ask about Longview's heat rate and compare.

"They said that theirs was 8,980, and ours was right around 9,000 at that time," he said.

For comparison, the 850-megawatt net Iatan 2 supercritical plant was constructed from 2007 to 2010 at a cost of about $2.0 billion. The net megawatt rating is the full capacity rating minus the power used onsite.

The 695-megawatt net Longview advanced supercritical plant, constructed 2007-2011, came in at about $2.0 billion, and the 600-megawatt net John W. Turk Jr. ultrasupercritical plant, constructed 2008-2012, cost $1.8 billion.

Iatan 2 dealt with its startup problems in 2011, and Longview went through that phase in 2012. Turk, Huguenard said, no doubt will go through it in 2013.

And for 2014, after all that shakes out?

"I think we're going to get edged out," he said. "We might be number 2 or number 3."