The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

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March 26, 2014

Empire cites project aimed at reducing emissions from Asbury Power Plant

ASBURY, Mo. — For the third time in its history, a multimillion-dollar construction project is under way at the Asbury Power Plant to reduce emissions.

“A lot of us drive by on Highway 171 every day and probably don’t even realize Asbury is out here, the power plant, let alone some construction activity,” said Blake Mertens, vice president of energy supply for Empire District Electric Co., during a news conference Tuesday.

When the Asbury Power Plant came on line in 1970, it was built as a mine-mouth plant: It accepted truckloads of coal from nearby mines, and burned it to heat water and create steam, which turned a turbine and generated electricity.

In 1990, Empire spent $30 million to convert the plant to allow it to accept rail cars of coal from Wyoming’s Powder River region — coal that has less sulfur than the coal of Southeast Kansas and Southwest Missouri.

As a result, the plant reduced emissions by more than 80 percent.

In 2008, Empire installed a selective catalytic reduction system at the Asbury plant at a cost of $32 million to reduce emissions up to 85 percent.

Now, it’s nearing the final phase of a $112 million to $130 million installation of an air quality control system designed to bring the Asbury plant into compliance with new Environmental Protection Agency mandates by the spring of 2015. Officials say the project is about 75 percent complete, with about six more months needed to finish the work.

The upgrade, started in 2012, consists of three elements: a scrubber, which will reduce sulfur emissions by 95 percent; a “baghouse,” which will remove up to 99 percent of particulate matter; and a carbon injection system, which will remove mercury by up to 85 percent, according to Mertens.

“Empire had to decide whether to retrofit or build something new, and we determined this was the cheapest solution for our customers and provided diversity for our customers,” he said.

The large range in the estimated final cost allows for unexpected contingencies that officials anticipate when making upgrades to a 44-year-old plant, Mertens said.

At peak construction, the project created 140 to 150 jobs for union workers in the area. The company also added four permanent positions at the plant as a result of the upgrades.

The structure’s topping-out will be done this month, with a tie-in outage scheduled for the fall. Officials said Tuesday they expect the outage will last seven weeks, during which time they will transfer all ductwork from the existing stack to the new one. A fall outage is planned because it is not a time in which there is a great load demand from customers for heating and cooling.

During the outage, Empire will draw power from others in the Southwest Power Pool so service will not be interrupted.

Mertens cited the most recent upgrades as the most cost-effective way to meet federal mandates, diversify the company’s power sources and provide customers with the lowest-cost fuel source. Today, about half of Empire’s power generation comes from coal, while natural gas accounts for about 25 percent, wind-power purchase agreements account for 15 percent, hydro power accounts for 1 percent and other purchases account for about 6 percent.

When asked whether the project would affect customers’ rates, spokeswoman Julie Maus said the company will have to recover costs on its investment, but by law those costs cannot be put into effect as rate increases until after the project is complete. She said officials have not yet determined what rate increases will be requested from state regulators.

The Asbury plant has a current capacity rating of 189 megawatts, or 189,000 kilowatts, and generates enough electricity to meet the annual energy needs of 90,000 residential customers.

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