POWER Notebook: Wyoming Moves to Save Coal Plants

A Wyoming bill designed to keep coal-fired power plants operating in the state was signed into law by the state’s governor last week, one of several developments worldwide that impacted the power generation landscape in early March.

Also in the U.S., the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) defended its hiring of a contractor that led the cleanup of a massive coal ash spill in 2008. In the UK, EDF Energy released images of cracks in a nuclear reactor that have kept one of the units at its Hunterston B plant offline for a year.

Wyoming Adopts Law to Keep Coal Plants Operating

Wyoming Gov. Mark Gordon, a Republican, on March 8 signed into law a measure that aims to keep the state’s coal-fired power plants operating. The bill, Senate File 159, requires utilities that want to retire a plant in Wyoming to first seek a buyer for the facility. It also requires the utility to buy back the power from a new operator, even if cheaper power is available.

The bill’s sponsor, Republican state senator Dan Dockstader, said the bill is designed to protect jobs in communities with coal-fired power plants. Opponents said the bill was just about keeping uneconomic coal plants in business.

Connie Wilbert, Wyoming’s chapter director for the Sierra Club, told Wyoming Public Media: “I was disappointed that there wasn’t a more robust discussion of this bill. What kind of a can of worms are we actually opening? What it could do is lock Wyoming rate payers into much higher prices for their electricity for years to come,” Wilbert said.

The bill was in response to concerns from some lawmakers about the impact on the state’s economy after PacifiCorp, which owns Wyoming utility Rocky Mountain Power, said in December 2018 that 60% of its coal fleet is uneconomic, including plants in Wyoming.

TVA Defends Relationship with Contractor Involved in Kingston Cleanup

Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) President and CEO Bill Johnson on March 6 said the company hired to oversee the cleanup of the December 2008 coal ash spill in Kingston, Tennessee, “did not have a history of safety lawsuits or test tampering” when it was brought onboard by TVA. Johnson, in a letter to two Tennessee congressmen who had asked questions about the utility’s response to health complaints from workers who participated in the cleanup, wrote that TVA “put the safety of its employees and contractors first” throughout the cleanup.

Johnson defended the hiring of Jacobs Engineering Group and an ongoing contract with the company. Johnson, though, did acknowledge a jury’s decision in November 2018 that Jacobs breached its duty to the coal ash cleanup workers by failing to adhere to its contract with TVA. Jurors found that Jacobs’ work protocols were capable of causing the workers’ medical problems, which include cancer and high blood pressure. A lawsuit filed on behalf of workers who participated in the Kingston cleanup said that more than 40 workers have died, and more than 400 have become ill after their work at the project site.

Testimony in the trial included reports that Jacobs’ employees took dust masks away from workers. Some workers were threatened with firing, and those who testified said a supervisor told workers it would take consumption of a pound of coal ash each day to be harmful. TVA is not party to ongoing litigation, though Johnson’s letter spoke of the utility’s concerns that it could be liable for some of the litigation costs, which would be passed on to ratepayers.

EDF Releases Images of Cracks in Hunterston Nuclear Reactor

EDF Energy has released images and video footage of cracks found in an idled reactor at a nuclear power plant in Scotland. The unit at Hunterston B in North Ayrshire has been offline since March 2018, when the cracks were discovered to be growing faster than expected. A planned inspection at that time of the graphite bricks in the core of Reactor 3 at the plant found what EDF called “keyway root cracks.” EDF, owner and operator of the plant, said the cracks now average about 2mm wide.

Colin Weir, the nuclear plant’s director, told BBC Scotland: “Nuclear safety is our overriding priority and Reactor 3 has been off for the year so that we can do further inspections.” EDF also took Reactor 4 at the plant offline in October 2018 after cracks were found during an inspection of that unit.

EDF said about 370 hairline cracks have been discovered in Reactor 3, which means there is a fracture in roughly one in 10 bricks in the reactor core. Under current Office for Nuclear Regulation rules, operations must stop if the number of cracks exceeds 350.

The Hunterston plant is one of seven advanced gas-cooled reactors (AGRs) that entered operation across the UK in the 1970s and 1980s.

POWER staff reports (@POWERmagazine).