NRG Coal Conversion Similar To Completed BPU Project

The planned conversion from coal to natural gas at the NRG Energy facility in Dunkirk is similar to the project completed by the Jamestown Board of Public Utilities last year.

In December, it was announced that the NRG plant in Dunkirk will be repowered and expanded. Currently one 75-megawatt unit is operating on coal. The project will convert three coal units to natural gas for a capacity of 435 megawatts.

Last year, the BPU did a similar project by converting a coal boiler to run on natural gas. David Leathers, BPU general manager, said he is not familiar with the exact details of the NRG project or specific technology, but the project will be the same as the one done by BPU officials.

“The overall concept is very similar to our recent fuel conversion of boiler No. 10 to natural gas,” he said.

Leathers said the BPU’s conversion has been commissioned by the New York Public Service Commission. The new natural gas boiler can generate 12 to 14 megawatts, and was used during the extremely cold weather in January.

“The concept is to run it if there is a failure with the LM6000 (natural gas turbine),” Leathers said. “It helped reduce peak transmission load, but it doesn’t run constantly. It’s a backup.”

The main source of power generation for the BPU is their LM6000 natural gas turbine. In simple cycle, Leather said it produces 40-43 megawatts. In combine cycle, he said steam heat is used to create an additional 15 megawatts, which then totals 55-58 megawatts.

“We start it in early November and it runs 24 hours a day, seven days a week until March,” he said.

Leathers said BPU officials support the NRG repowering plan.

“The plant conversion is good for the Dunkirk area and the county. It is good for the overall county tax base, and it has had overwhelming public and political support. This good news for the county is embraced by the BPU,” he said.

Leathers said the NRG conversion should have no effect on the BPU capacity to sell excess electricity to the grid.

“When the Dunkirk facility operates, it should help to improve Western New York transmission reliability and also help to reduce transmission congestion costs,” Leathers said.

Originally, NRG had proposed spending $500 million on a brand new facility, but instead $150 million will be invested into the natural gas conversion. The project will provide local system reliability benefits for National Grid customers and will help to relieve transmission bottlenecks in the region and reduce electricity supply costs to consumers. The plan will preserve the existing 68 permanent jobs at the site at least through mid-2015, and will create approximately 50 construction jobs.