Alabama Power Co., a subsidiary of Southern Co., has applied for air permits that would authorize the company to retrofit four coal-fired electric generating units, enabling them to add the capability to burn natural gas as a primary fuel. The Alabama Department of Environmental Management gave public notice of the application on Jan. 8.

The units, Gaston 1–4, would continue to have the ability to burn coal in emergencies, but the expectation is that they would be fueled solely by natural gas beginning in 2016. The change is part of a larger initiative within Alabama Power to reduce emissions, which has been driven by environmental mandates.

The company has already added gas capability to its Gadsden facility, which includes two 65-MW units, and it intends to convert Barry Units 1–3 to gas by 2016. The anticipated changes will result in approximately 1,600 MW of capacity switching from coal to gas within the next three years.

There are plans to upgrade the air quality control systems at several of the coal plants that will remain in operation. Baghouses are in the process of being added to Gorgas Units 8–10, and preconstruction work is under way to add one on Barry Unit 5.

Changes to the coal supply are also being considered. Barry Units 4 and 5 could switch exclusively to Powder River Basin (PRB) coal in 2015. The company currently gets some PRB coal but also imports a significant portion of its coal from Columbia, South America. Future decisions will likely be based on how environmental regulations play out.

Michael Sznajderman, coordinator of media relations for Alabama Power, noted that the company has no intentions of closing any of its facilities and is well situated to meet demand for the foreseeable future. Based on current projections, the earliest it expects to add any new generation would be around 2030.

Aaron Larson, associate editor (@AaronL_Power, @POWERmagazine)