A story in ENR , a flagship periodical of the engineering and construction industry published by McGraw-Hill cites the conversion of a northwest Ontario power plant, Atikokan Generating Station, from coal to biomass, principally forest waste products a sustainable fuel. Unfortunately, as is often the case in the press that disfavors coal, the whole truth is obscured. According to Ontario Power Generation’s (OPG)’s web site, “…the Atikokan Generating Station… has one coal-fuelled generating unit that produces up to 211 megawatts (MW) of electricity, using low-sulphur lignite coal from Western Canada.” The ENR story relates a $170 million retrofit to transform the 28 year old plant from coal to biomass to comply with government dictates to remove coals as a fuel by 2014. The plant’s station manager, Brent Boyko, states that “The biomass fuel source cuts emissions but retains the plant’s ability to generate 205 MW of electrical power.”
Here is the missing and overwhelmingly essential information. OPG’s site states that, “In the past decade, annual electricity production has been as high as 1 billion kilowatt-hours (kWh), enough to supply about 83,000 homes for a year. More recently, due to economic downturn and emission regulations, Atikokan role has changed to providing reliability during peak demand times and back up electricity generation when other sources are not available.” (Emphasis supplied)
This is a stunning omission in the ENR story. Decreasing capability from 1 billion kWh (equal to 1,000 MW) to a mere 20% shadow of its former capacity represents a massive downgrade. The same story also does not specify the huge inherent advantage of coal, expressed in Btu/$, over biomass. My book, Green Purchasing & Sustainability , the basis for the Certified Green Purchasing Professional conferred by the American Purchasing Society clearly proves that coal has about 500% greater value (Btu/$). Doing the math, the retrofit plant will have 1/5 of the generating capacity because the feeder fuel has 1/5 of the Btu/$ capability.
The ENR story further cites the Sierra Club , dictates of the US Environmental Protection Agency and both US and Canadian government regulations. What it does not state is that the ultimate cost to the consumer will be a staggering price increase in electrical power as is obvious in the economically silly switch from high energy intensive fuel to clearly sustainable although inefficient fuel.
As the old NFL ad campaign http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lzQb7AnnFJo liked to say, “You make the call.”