After brief update by Jim Bridger Power Plant on EPA retrofits, SWCO Commission Chairman Wally Johnson goes on the attack


SWEETWATER COUNTY – As the regional hazing issue and the involvement of the Environmental Protection Agency in Wyoming continues to be debated, one facility which has been impacted by it spoke to the Sweetwater County Commissioners on Tuesday.

Representatives from PacifiCorp and the Jim Bridger Power Plant made a stop at the commission meeting to update the commission on the retrofit construction schedule at the plant. After the brief update, Sweetwater County Commission Chairman went on the attack.

Jim Bridger is one of the largest coal-fired power plants in the Western United States. Approximately 350 people work at the plant which produces 2,119,000 kilowatts per hour in four units. Senior Engineer of PacifiCorp Mike Saunders explained how the plant works and exactly what the process and construction schedule is to meet recent EPA regulations which were put in place to lower regional hazing.

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The production process begins with the extraction of coal from mines located just a few miles from the plant. The coal is crushed and transported by a four-mile-long conveyor belt from the Bridger Mine to the plant and by train from the Black Butte Mine.

Here, fuel handlers mix and blend coal from different seams to gain optimum blend for a clean, efficient fuel. Once blended, the coal is conveyed inside the plant. There, pulverizers grind the coal to a talcum powder consistency. This mixture fuels the boiler.

At full load, all four units will consume 1,100 tons of coal per hour. The boiler heats water to produce steam that is superheated and conducted to the turbine, driving the electric generator. Electricity produced leaves the plant on 345,000-volt transmission lines to enter the regional power grid.

Spent steam is condensed back into water using cooling towers (from which billow large clouds of white water vapor, giving the plant one of its most distinctive hallmarks). The cooled water then returns to the boiler to start the process all over again. Water for the plant comes from the Green River through a 50-mile-long pipeline.

Coal is burned to produce high-pressure steam that spins large turbine-generators, which produce electricity. In practice, this process requires a complex blending of systems.

Four operating units, each with a 2,800-degree furnace, produce 1,000-degree steam, which turn turbines. At full load, the four turbines generate enough electricity to light three cities the size of Salt Lake City. To accomplish this task takes a well-trained workforce operating as a team 24-hours a day.


Process and Schedule

Coal-fired plants have came under fire by the federal government specifically the EPA. New regional hazing rules by the EPA has forced Jim Bridger to make retrofits on the units to reduce haze.

In 2013, the plant received a certificate of public convenience from the Wyoming Public Service Commission and on May 27 last year, the plant went out to bid on the project. In June, the plant finished final construction plans and in December awarded the bid.

Construction on Unit 3 will begin in November of 2015 and will be complete in December of 2016 to be in compliance with the EPA. Unit 4 will start in November of 2016 and will be completed in December of 2016 to meet the requirements.

Saunders said they have approximately 170 construction personnel on site now and anticipate the number of people working on the project to jump to approximately 500 in 2015 and 2016 during the actual construction.

The construction will include over 10,000 tons of steel, there has been 1,300 yards of concrete poured and 1,100 drilled piers put in place.


Commissioners on the attack

After the short presentation, Johnson went on the offensive against the entire issue. He told officials they strongly opposed this during hearings on the issue. Johnson said regional hazing is not caused by coal plants. He said all one has to do is look at the differences between summer and winter. He directly pointed to forest fires as being one of the biggest problems in the regional hazing issue and coal-fired power plants have to pay for it.

“We don’t think you should have had to do this,” Johnson said. “It’s costing the people who turn on the lights millions.”

With a grin on his face, Johnson asked Saunders what the cost of the project would be. Saunders chuckled and said they could not say the cost because of confidentiality clauses in the contract.

“I wonder if the EPA knows,” Johnson asked.

While exact costs were not discussed, PacifiCorp officials did say what the EPA estimated costs on the project to be are much different from what real-world costs of the project are. It is estimated the cost for each unit to be retrofitted is well over $100 million dollars.

“I know you have to be politically correct,” Johnson said to the officials. “But we don’t.”

He said the people who are going to pay for this are the ratepayers and it is all because of someone on the west coast who does not understand anything. He said in China, they are putting a coal-fired power plants on line at a rate of one a day.

“Does the EPA know the regional hazing may be coming from China,” Johnson questioned? “It is half of billion dollars spent that doesn’t really do anything.”

Again, Johnson fired at the Forest Service. He said the forests from coast to coast are filled with beetle-killed trees that are just sitting there waiting to burn. With Yosemite of fire, Johnson wondered if the same people who are watching this happen understand it is adding to the regional haze here in Sweetwater County.

“I bet you if they take care of that (beetle-killed trees and forest fires) it would reduce haze more than what you are doing,” he told PacifiCorp.

Johnson has been critical of the way the forest service has handled the issue for several years. He again said they need to give lumber companies incentives to come in and clean up the forests. Johnson exclaimed not only will it clean up the forests, it will provide jobs, improve watersheds and reduce haze.

Commissioner Reid West also commented on the issue. West said what is most troubling is the fact it may not be economically feasible to make the changes to Unit 1 and Unit 2. He also said people were getting excited about talks of a fifth unit coming on board but this has pretty much taken that project off the table.

“That would have been good for Sweetwater County and Sweetwater County coal,” West said.

Again Johnson jumped in and said he hoped PacifiCorp would continue to look at Unit 5.

“What would people like to see,” Johnson asked. “Would you like to see 500 wind units on White or Aspen Mountain or one unit buring bridger coal.”

The four units were built from 1974 to 1979. Commissioner Gary Bailiff said having lived through the construction of units 1 through 4, it was troubling to him that the retrofitting will cost as much if not more than the initial construction of the units.

All the commissioners voiced support for the power plant and said if there was anything the commission could do to help in anyway to call them. Again Johnson stressed to them, “you have to be politically correct. We don’t.”