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Home Science In a Twist, Old Coal Plants Help Deliver Renewable Power. Here’s How.

In a Twist, Old Coal Plants Help Deliver Renewable Power. Here’s How.

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Nationally, aging and non-functional coal-fired power plants are breathing new life into solar, battery and other renewable energy projects. This is partly due to the increasing value of features decades ago.

The miles of high-voltage lines and towers often needed to connect power plants to a wide range of customers can be costly, time-consuming and controversial to build from scratch. As such, solar power and other projects avoid the hassle of regulation and move to renewable energy by connecting to unused connections left behind to make coal uneconomical to continue burning. May accelerate.

In Illinois alone, at least nine coal-fired power plants will become solar farms and battery storage facilities over the next three years. Similar projects have materialized in Nevada, New Mexico, Colorado, North Dakota, Nebraska, Minnesota, and Maryland. In Massachusetts and New Jersey, two abandoned coal-fired power plants along the coast are being reused to connect offshore wind turbines to the local power grid.

Jack Darin, director of the Illinois branch of the Sierra Club, an environmental advocate, said: “It’s a big asset.”

Over the last 20 years, more than 600 coal-fired generators with a total power generation capacity of approximately 85 gigawatts have been deprecated. US Energy Information Administration.. (Each power plant can have multiple generators.) Most of the remaining 266 coal-burning power plants in the country were built in the 1970s and 1980s and have an operating life of about 50 years. We are nearing the end.

Most of its obsolete capacity will not be replaced by coal, as the industry is squeezed by cheaper renewables and stricter emission regulations. At the same time, renewable energy producers are facing obstacles in connecting their projects to the grid. Building new power lines is costly and controversial, as neighbors often oppose power lines that can disturb the landscape or reduce the value of nearby assets. In addition, getting regulatory approvals for power line projects can take some time.

Construction and operation of renewable energy projects has long been cheaper than fossil fuel power plants. The barrier is “no longer economics,” said Josephland, a scientist at Lawrence Berkeley’s National Laboratory, who is doing research on behalf of the US Department of Energy. “The most difficult thing is to ensure interconnection and transmission access.”

This makes the old coal-fired power plant an attractive choice as a site for renewable energy projects. Not only are old plants already wired to transmission systems, but they also have substations to help convert power into power suitable for home and business use.

This was a key factor in choosing the Brayton Point power plant as the grid connection point for the 1,200 megawatt wind power plant 37 miles off the coast of Massachusetts, said Mayflower Wind, chief executive officer of offshore wind development company Mayflower Wind. One Michael Brown said.

The coal-fired power plant, at 1,600 MW, was the largest power plant in New England when it retired in 2017. The facility itself in the waterfront town of Somerset will be replaced by a submarine cable factory owned by the Italian company Prysmian Group. .. Offshore wind projects will also connect to the grid at Brayton Point’s interconnect points and utilize existing substations there.

As one of the most ambitious efforts, Texas-based power company Vistra Corp., which also owns various power plants in California and Illinois, has spent $ 550 million on Illinois. The state is on site for solar panels and battery storage.

The largest plant in Baldwin, Illinois, scheduled to be abolished by 2025, will have 190,000 solar panels on 500 acres of land. Together, the panel produces 68 megawatts of power. This is enough to power somewhere in 13,600-34,000 households, depending on the time of year. It also has a battery that can store up to 9 MW, helping to distribute power when demand peaks or when the sun isn’t shining.

Curtis Morgan, CEO of Vistra, found that utilities need to “leave coal behind” and build a new zero-emission project to replace some of the power from these power plants. He said he was eager to do. However, he said, the slow process of getting approval from grid operators who coordinate and monitor power supplies is an obstacle to many of Vistra’s proposed projects.

According to the company, the surge in proposals for wind, solar and battery storage projects has overwhelmed regulators in recent years. Analysis from Lawrence Berkeley National LaboratoryOverlooking the University of California, Berkeley campus. By 2021, waiting time almost doubled from 10 years ago to nearly four years. This does not include an increase in the number of projects that are completely withdrawn from the process.

If all projects currently awaiting approval are built, “it could reach 80% clean energy by 2030,” said Rand, lead author of the report. “But I’m lucky if even a quarter of what was proposed is actually completed.”

Vistra’s three battery storage projects in Illinois (Havana, Joppa and Edwards coal-fired power plants) are also from state law, climate and fair employment laws aimed at supporting a “just transition” of coal dependence. Benefited from the infusion of grants. A community for renewable energy. Signed by Governor JB Pritzker last fall, he demanded that all fossil fuel combustion plants have zero emissions by 2045. This could lead to the closure of most coal plants in Illinois, which were already ready for closure. Down within 10 years.

The Coal to Sun Energy Storage Grant Program Born from the law, it also supports two other battery projects owned by NRG Energy. These projects will be built at coal-fired power plants in Wakigan and Will County.

There are two benefits to building a renewable energy project on an old coal plant, said Sylvia Garcia, head of the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity, which oversees the coal-to-solar program. First, the project has the advantage of being able to easily reuse existing connections to the grid. Second, she said, it was an effort to “reinvest in a community that lost a coal-fired power plant” in the first place.

New projects create temporary construction work, but operating solar power plants and battery facilities usually does not require as many employees. The Baldwin factory previously employed about 105 full-time workers. Vistra hasn’t yet finalized figures for each site, but the company’s communications director, Meranda Cohn, said the combined nine projects in Illinois would create 29 full-time jobs annually. I’m saying in an email.

Coal-fired power plants are also usually located on fairly large lands, and redeveloping those sites into renewable energy projects is a way to bring something productive to assets that may not otherwise be used. is.

Jeff Bishop, Chief Executive Officer of KeyCapture Energy, who plans to set up a 20-megawatt battery storage project at a retired coal-fired power plant near Baltimore, Maryland, said: ..

The retirement of Mount Tom Station, a coal mill that has been operating elsewhere in Holyoke, Massachusetts for over 50 years, has shown many possibilities, said Julie Vitek, vice president of government and regulatory affairs for electricity producer ENGIE North America. I am. .. After meeting with government officials, environmental groups and residents, she said the solar farm emerged as the best way to “give new life to the industrial land of Mount Tom.”

Currently, the facility is equipped with approximately 17,000 solar panels and small batteries, forming a community solar project managed by Holyoke Gas & Electric. The panel produces about 6 megawatts of electricity and powers about 1,800 households.

Solar, battery and wind developers aren’t the only ones looking at the infrastructure of older coal-fired power plants. TerraPower, a nuclear venture founded by Bill Gates, has a 345 MW advanced nuclear reactor adjacent to an abandoned coal-fired power plant in Kemmerer, Wyoming. Chris Levesque, President and Chief Executive Officer of TerraPower, said to take advantage of the cooling system of coal-fired power plants.

“In a sense, it’s really a shame not to use these coal-fired power plants,” Levesque said.

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