The process to convert two units of a coal-fired power plant near Carbo, Va., in Russell County to natural gas is underway.
The Clinch River Power Plant is more than 50 years old and was on the road to retirement before Appalachian Power officials decided to make the move to convert two of its three generating units to natural gas. The third unit was retired.
Appalachian Power asked state regulators in Virginia and West Virginia for approval last spring, and that has since been granted, said Jeff LaFleur, vice president of generating assets for the company.
“The gas pipeline contract has been awarded, and we’ve started procurement and final engineering of converting two of those units to natural gas,” he said.
He said the two units that will be converted will burn coal throughout the summer. Then, in the fall of 2015, one unit will go offline to be converted. The other unit will be converted in early 2016.
“By spring of 2016, we’ll have two natural gas units,” he said. “Right now, we don’t have any holdups for that schedule.”
That also means that when those units convert, the company will have no more coal-burning power plants in Virginia, as other units owned by Appalachian Power are on the path to retirement by the end of this year. Aging plants and Environmental Protection Agency regulations contributed to the retirements, Appalachian Power officials said at the time the decision was announced.
The conversion is expected to cost $56 million, bring a few hundred temporary jobs to the area and bring in $1 million or so in tax revenues for Russell County.
The conversion will also mean some layoffs, since not as many people are needed to run the gas plants as the coal-fired plants, LaFleur said. The new plant will keep a staff of about 30-40 people, down from about 100 who work there now.
He said people were given options to retire early and to bid on a move to another Appalachian Power plant elsewhere. A lot of people have gone on to work at the Virginia City Hybrid Energy Center in St. Paul, Va., which is run by Dominion, LaFleur said.
“We will have fewer people, but don’t think it will be a shock to the community,” LaFleur said. “We’re working hard to manage that process.”
“Folks at Clinch River have done an excellent job,” LaFleur said. “Their safety and environmental record is excellent. I can’t say enough about the people at that plant.”
Gas prices are more volatile than coal prices right now, LaFleur said, which will dictate how often the plant will run. This past winter, it burned coal constantly to keep up with the power demand.