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Sunday, 30 September 2012 13:56

Holland energy initiative weighs options for baseload power

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HOLLAND — As the Holland Board of Public Works considers shutting down coal-burning operations at the James DeYoung plant in favor of more sustainable electrical generation, the implications of such a shift become more complex and nuanced.

Currently, the Holland Board of Public Works (BPW) operates three different generation stations: the James DeYoung plant and the 48th Street and 6th Street stations.

Of the three units currently in operation, the DeYoung coal-fired plant is under the most scrutiny because it is located directly upwind of downtown Holland and has the most potential for improvement.

DeYoung meets Holland’s basic power needs through three coal-fired generators that run continuously and also supply the downtown snowmelt system with hot water from the plant’s condensers. The 48th Street and 6th Street generation plants supply overflow power, mostly during the summer months.

The 48th Street station consists of three simple-cycle combustion turbines, two of which run on either fuel oil or natural gas while the other operates solely on natural gas. The 6th Street unit is an oil-fired unit constructed in 1973.

The Holland Board of Public Works launched the Power for the 21st Century (P21) community engagement plan in September 2011 to educate citizens about what electric generation options are available to the city, as well as the comparative costs and benefits of each option. Options considered for power generation in the future include wind farms, photovoltaic solar cells, biomass and natural gas generation.

HDR Engineering Inc., a consulting firm based in Omaha, Nebraska, weighed Holland’s options through a sustainable return on investment analysis, or SROI, conducted by HDR Engineering, Inc., a consulting firm based in Omaha, Neb. A SROI takes into account the financial, social and environmental impact of various scenarios in order to maximize the overall benefit. The Holland community received the results of the SROI on August 8.

According to Dan Nally, business services director at the Holland BPW, the attractiveness of performing an SROI analysis was that it focuses on more than simple cost/benefit questions. It also focuses on the impact decisions have on the community at large.

“There are a variety of things that don’t go into an ROI analysis that go into a sustainable ROI analysis,” said Nally. “We were looking at things like the long-term impact on the waterfront and maintaining the downtown snowmelt system.”

Based on the SROI analysis of the seven scenarios considered, the three most-attractive options for both cost and sustainability all involve the use of natural gas-fired plants in lieu of the current coal-fired facility. These options all reduce particulate and gas emissions while simultaneously lowering electricity costs by over $100 million. The best scenario entailed shutting down all existing DeYoung generators by 2016 and constructing a gas turbine facility next to the existing site on Pine Avenue. This scenario would provide a combined of financial, social and environmental value ranging from $300 million to $800 million, depending on the cost of natural gas.

While a shift from coal-fired power to natural gas may be financially and environmentally attractive, there are several secondary effects that might cause proponents of the change to think twice.

According to Tom O’Bryan, area engineer with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, removing a coal-fired plant from Holland BPW’s energy portfolio will cause the city to lose harbor maintenance funding. Currently, harbor maintenance funding is determined by yearly total tonnage, with only harbors that have over 1 million tons of freight annually or a coal-fired power plant that gets shipments of coal receiving funding. According to O’Bryan, Holland’s harbor averages between 400,000 and 500,000 tons of shipping per year, well below 1-million-ton cutoff.

“In my personal opinion, with regards to the budget situation, we will not be funding Holland harbor in the future,” said O’Bryan. “As always, we will still request funds to continue maintaining these harbors, but it’s unlikely we’ll get them.”

In the past, small commercial or recreational harbor maintenance was funded through Congressional earmarks, but that process fell out of favor. Lately the federal government has stipulated that in order for harbors to get funding, harbors must have either 1 million tons of freight per year or a power plant. The funding comes from the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund, which is funded by a tax on freight.

According to O’Bryan, the cost of maintaining Holland’s outer harbor is $500,000, an operation that must be done each year. Holland’s inner harbor only must be dredged once every three years, and costs $1 million to maintain. Maintenance for Holland’s harbors is funded through 2013, but future funding is not likely, he said.

While O’Bryan remains hopeful that, without its coal plant, Holland will be able to continue to receive federal harbor maintenance funding, Nally isn’t holding his breath.

“That (loss of funding) could potentially be an adverse effect,” said Nally, but he saw the loss as imminent.

The immediate impact of this loss of funding is that the inner harbor could become unusable, according to O’Bryan, preventing companies like Louis Padnos Iron & Metal and Verplank Dock Co. from shipping out of the harbor. Further down the line, recreational boating could be affected if the harbor becomes impassable, possibly impacting tourism revenue for the city and the surrounding area.

When asked where supplementary funding will come from in order to maintain the harbor and navigation aides, Nally said that decision will have to take place in the future, when the energy generation decisions are made. However, he indicated that a potential solution would involve the companies that currently use the harbors for shipping.

In addition to harbor maintenance issues, there is no guarantee that natural gas will remain a cheap alternative to coal, and some in the Holland area would rather see no change from the current generation portfolio.

Nally said public hearings Sept. 4 and 5 provided community members the opportunity to get their opinions on the public record. Their statements ran the gamut from insisting on all renewable energy resources to wondering why any change needed to be made. In order to answer questions and allay concerns, the BPW held a question-and-answer session on Sept. 24.

“The community is anxious to see a fully developed power plant, but we have more work to do,” said Nally.

Read 5809 times Last modified on Sunday, 30 September 2012 14:25

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