Golden Valley Electric Association workers took one of its two coal-fired power plants offline this week for maintenance, and they’ll take the other down next week so they can work on both at once. And to pay for the work on Healy 1 and Healy 2, Golden Valley is charging ratepayers an additional nine dollars a month, on average.
Golden Valley officials had long planned to take both Healy 1 and 2 offline this month, so workers could build a system that would remove the byproduct of burning the coal that fuels the two power plants’ boilers.
Frank Perkins, Golden Valley’s vice president of power supply, says the work is being done “so that we can take all of our ash off-site, back to the mine, where it can be properly disposed of.”
Perkins is referring to the Usibelli Coal Mine, where the utility gets the fuel for Healy 1 and 2, and where it buries the ash. He said installing the Healy 2 ash-removal system will require shutting down both of the power plants, because that system, and others, are tied together.
“If you need to do a repair on that system in a specific area, it may require you to take both plants down,” he said in an interview last week.
That’s what happened late last year, when Golden Valley had to shut down both Healy 1 and 2 to repair problems with the two plants’ pulverizers, the system that crushes and grinds the coal into a fine and highly combustible dust. Perkins says workers repaired that and other problems they found to get the plants up and operating until this month, when work was scheduled to be done on the ash-removal system.
“We’re going to bring Healy 1 down, and then Healy 2 will come down the following week,” he said, “and they’ll both be down for about a week.”
Pulling the usually reliable Healy 1 offline at the same as Healy 2 requires Golden Valley to replace the 75 megawatts of cheap electricity they generate from elsewhere. Some comes GVEA’s other power plants that run on more expensive fuels, like diesel. And some comes from utilities at the south end of the interties that generate electricity with natural gas. But Perkins says that so-called “economy power” is harder to come by these days.
“For the last couple of years,” he said, “it’s been very difficult to get that economy power, because the gas contracts were very difficult to get.”
Perkins says that’s because the price of the natural gas has risen, and the utilities charge more they must fire-up their less-efficient generators on short notice, like when Healy 1 and 2 were taken offline unexpectedly. So, because Golden Valley has had to pay those prices and for its own more-expensive fuels, it’s increased its fuel and purchased-power charge by about 18 percent, effective as of March 1st.
Member Services Director Abby Dillard says that additional nine dollars a month or so will pay for the increased fuel costs.
“The fuel and purchased power cost itself, that is specifically, strictly related to the cost to purchase fuel and the cost to purchase power,” she said.
Dillard says the increased fuel and purchased power charge will stay on ratepayers’ bills at least through May. And she says it’s too soon to say whether it will be extended for another three months.