Transforming a northern Ontario coal plant into a sustainable energy project

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                OPG’s $170 million Atikokan Generating Station biomass conversion  

    Special to Ontario Construction Report

    The Atikokan Generating Station conversion project is moving quickly ahead and once operating will be the largest 100 per cent capacity biomass fuelled plant in North America.

    An estimated 250 construction workers are on the northwestern Ontario site now, with jobs in construction, technical work and administration, Ontario Power Generation (OPG) representatives engineering project manager Darcey Bailey said.

    The $170 million project’s fuel handling and storage systems are being designed and constructed by Aecon Group Inc., which says in an announcement that its component is about half of the total project cost.  Other key contractors are Doosan Power Systems Americas and Nordmin Engineering, an OPG representative said in an email to OCR.

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    The station is converting its fuel source from coal to biomass in the form of wood pellets. The project is well underway with plans on track for commissioning and placing the plant in-service in mid 2014, OPG says.

    “It’s actually far more challenging to retrofit a plant that to open a new one,” said station manager Brent Boyko. “Adapting the plant to biomass includes overhauling the fuel handling facilities, installing 15 new burners and installing a new command and controls system.”

                Work is going

     

    Transforming a northern Ontario coal plant to sustainable energy

     

                OPG’s $170 million Atikokan Generating Station biomass conversion 

    Special to Ontario Construction Report

    The Atikokan Generating Station conversion project is moving quickly ahead and once operating will be the largest 100 per cent capacity biomass fuelled plant in North America.

    An estimated 250 construction workers are on the northwestern Ontario site now, with jobs in construction, technical work and administration, Ontario Power Generation (OPG) Ontario Power Generation (OPG) engineering project manager Darcey Bailey said.

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    The $170 million project’s fuel handling and storage systems are being designed and constructed by Aecon Group Inc., which says in an announcement that its component is about half of the total project cost.  Other key contractors are Doosan Power Systems Americas and Nordmin Engineering, an OPG representative said in an email to OCR.

     

    The station is converting its fuel source from coal to biomass in the form of wood pellets. The project is well underway with plans on track for commissioning and placing the plant in-service in mid 2014, Bailey said..

    “It’s actually far more challenging to retrofit a plant that to open a new one,” said station manager Brent Boyko. “Adapting the plant to biomass includes overhauling the fuel handling facilities, installing 15 new burners and installing a new command and controls system.”

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    Work is going on inside and outside the station. Besides working directly with Atikokan Generating Station staff, contractors also have “islands” set up throughout the station where they can work independently.  Safety is a top priority for OPG and for all involved in the conversion project.  Safety training is complete for crews on site and continues as more trades people join the team, the OPG release says.

    How did this project come about?

    OPG’s predecessor, Ontario Hydro, conducted preliminary investigations of biomass potential in the 1970s.  Successful test burns of waste grain material were conducted at a number of OPG’s coal-fired stations over the years including the Atikokan Generating Station. Biomass co-firing was already well-established in several European countries at levels up to 20 per cent of the fuel blend.

    The Environmental Protection Act: Ontario Regulation 496/07, Cessation of Coal Use – Atikokan, Lambton, Nanticoke and Thunder Bay Generating Stations – requires OPG to ensure that coal is not used to generate electricity at these generating stations after December 31, 2014.

    The directive to move forward

    In Aug. 2010 the Minister of Energy directed the Ontario Power Authority to negotiate a Power Purchase Agreement with OPG for biomass-generated electricity from Atikokan.

    In 2011, OPG conducted a sustainability analysis, through the Pembina Institute, of a scenario that included harvesting and processing two million oven-dried tonnes of forest-based biomass per year at four OPG coal plants. Its findings showed that this could be done sustainably with no systemic decline in forest carbon stocks over time.

    The wood pellet electricity pathway offers significant greenhouse gas benefits over combined cycle natural gas generation (on average 80 per cent lower).  Significant social and economic benefits accrue in forest-dependent communities – the study estimated that approximately 3,259 jobs could be created and $558 million could be added to the provincial GDP. Pembina also analyzed a scenario that included harvesting and processing 100,000 tonnes of forest-based biomass, sourced from forest management units in northwestern Ontario each year, for OPG’s Atikokan Generating Station.  The sustainability results were the same, greenhouse gas benefits would be on average 90 per cent lower and the study estimated 160 jobs would be sustained in the local area.

    OPG’s biomass program continues to make progress

    The fuel handling and storage system construction at Atikokan Generating Station is well underway — the walls for the two 5,000 tonne biomass storage silos are complete and stand 43m (140’) tall / 21m (68’ 10”) in diameter, Boyko said.

    Two independent slipforms were used on each silo (one inside and one outside). Slip forming is the use of a continuous, cast-in-place method that relies on the quick-setting and high-strength properties of concrete to create a structure with no joints. The forms were 1.22m (4’) high and once filled, “slipped” upward at about an inch a minute as the concrete pour continued. Once set, the concrete supported the freshly poured concrete and the workers above it.

    All told, 2,750 cu. m. of concrete (over 300 truckloads) was cast in the silos project, supported by over 200,000 kg of rebar. The silo walls are about one half metre thick, said Bailey.   “There is still a good deal of work left to do to link them into the transfer system into the plant.”

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    The structural steel for the truck receiving and transfer tower is also complete.  The shell of the transfer tower is about six stories high.  Re-purposing the fuel-handling componentsinside the plant is also well under way.

    Still to come are furnace and combustion system modifications, which will be underway this year.  Major equipment has been ordered and is arriving steadily.  As well, work on the replacement of the controls system is beginning.

    Commissioning and in-service is planned for mid 2014.


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