Thursday, October 6, 2016

A new use for an old power plant

One of the problems with retired power plants along the Ohio River is what you do with them. They occupy a lot of acreage and they usually leave a lot of environmental problems behind. Think about the ash left over from burning hundreds of thousands of tons of coal every year and all that comes with that.

The Tanners Creek plant at Lawrenceburg, Indiana, a few miles below Cincinnati, was retired last year. But it might have a productive new life. First, the official news release that came out today.

LAWRENCEBURG, Ind.  – The Ports of Indiana announced today that Indiana Michigan Power has agreed to sell its recently retired Tanners Creek coal plant in Lawrenceburg, Ind., to a brownfield redevelopment company that is working with the Ports of Indiana to evaluate the site for use as the state’s fourth port.

“Infrastructure critical to our state’s economy includes more than just roads,” said Governor Mike Pence. “Indiana’s ports and waterways have been tremendous catalysts for economic growth in this state for decades, and there is great potential here in southeast Indiana to develop a fourth port that will further energize our economy. In my State of the State address last January, I called upon the Ports of Indiana to vigorously explore the building of a fourth port in the southeastern part of our state, and I’m thankful for their continued progress as we work to make this fourth port a reality.”

St. Louis-based Commercial Development Company, Inc. (CDC) and its affiliates will work with the Ports of Indiana to determine if the facility’s approximately 700 acres of property can be developed as the state’s fourth port. CDC and its affiliates, Environmental Liability Transfer Inc. and EnviroAnalytics Group, specialize in brownfield remediation, environmental liability management, and redevelopment of formerly distressed sites throughout North America.

The Tanners Creek coal electric generation facility, which had a capacity of 995 megawatts when it was retired last year, was a workhorse for Indiana Michigan Power, generating energy from 1951 through May of 2015. Plant employees had a reputation for productivity and safety, winning the Indiana Governor’s Workplace Safety Award in 2012. Indiana Michigan Power is owned by American Electric Power (AEP), which is one of the largest electric utilities in the U.S., serving nearly 5.4 million customers in 11 states.

“Pursuing the development of a new port in southeast Indiana will help drive growth for our 21st century agriculture and advanced manufacturing sectors and attract continued business investment to our state,” said Lt. Governor Eric Holcomb. “The Ohio River has always provided strategic advantages for this region, and Indiana has a strong record of leveraging our transportation assets into economic strength.”

The Ports of Indiana has been evaluating multiple locations in southeast Indiana for potential port developments and has identified the brownfield redevelopment and clean-up of the Tanners Creek facility as a favorable site for further analysis.

“There is no question the Lawrenceburg site and its existing infrastructure would have value in a port development project,” said Rich Cooper, CEO for the Ports of Indiana. “It’s too early to say for sure what can be developed here, but it certainly warrants further investigation. Indiana’s last port was built 30 years ago, and port property in the U.S. is extremely limited; once it’s gone – it’s ‘game over’ for future port development. We will be evaluating this site’s viability for attracting new business to the Cincinnati metro area and to spur further economic development in the Tri-State region. Extensive analysis went into identifying the Tanners Creek facility and the next steps will be to determine how much land is developable and the costs associated with making the land useful.”

The Ports of Indiana is a statewide port authority managing three ports on the Ohio River and Lake Michigan that support 60,000 jobs and $7.8 billion in annual economic activity. The state’s closest port to Lawrenceburg is the Port of Indiana-Jeffersonville, which opened in 1985 and is located just over 100 miles away along the Ohio River. In 2015, the Ports of Indiana handled an all-time high 12 million tons of cargo at all three ports.

There had been speculation, hints and all-but-confirmed rumors about this project for a while. From Eagle Country Online:

The idea of the so-called Fourth Port Plan was first publicly mentioned by Indiana Governor Mike Pence in his 2016 State of the State address last January. He called on Ports of Indiana, the public-private entity that oversees Indiana’s two other Ohio River ports and another on Lake Michigan, to study the viability of a port in the southeastern part of the state.
Speculation immediately turned toward the decommissioned American Electric Power Tanners Creek Plant as a possible site for the port, because it already has much of the necessary river, rail, and road infrastructure in place. Lieutenant Governor Eric Holcomb only added fuel to that fire when he spoke at an OKI Regional Council of Governments event in Lawrenceburg in early August stating “Very close to where we are today, we’re going to build our fourth port, the third along the Ohio River.”

(Read the whole thing for more details).

From what I can find, Tanners Creek had four units, which went into operation from 1951 to 1994.

At the end of its life in 2015, it was one of two coal-fired power plants in Indiana operated by AEP, with the other being Rockport down in the Evansville area. In 2014, the most recent year for which final numbers are available, the four generating units at Tanners Creek produced about 2.6 million megawatts hours of electricity. That same year, the plant took delivery of 597,506 tons of coal. About 48 percent of the coal came from mines in West Virginia. Another 38 percent came from Pennsylvania, and the remaining 14 percent came from Kentucky.

All that coal was delivered by river. At 1,500 tons per barge, that’s about 400 barges, or 27 barge tows.

The Energy Information Administration database for Tanners Creek says mines belonging to “Alpha” or “Alpha Coal” were the source for about 284,350 tons, or more than half. Losing that much business had to hurt Alpha, which has gone into bankruptcy and come out as a reorganized, smaller company.

The important fudge word in the news release, of course, is "evaluate." That means there are no promises, and any developments are likely months away as the appropriate environmental, feasibility and other studies are done. And for purposes of this entry, I'm avoiding any predictions of how many businesses or jobs could be created or affected by the development of a riverport at Lawrenceburg. I've seen too many of these predictions go wrong to dive into any for this particular site at this particular time.

So that’s what I know about Tanners Creek right now. I’ll be on the lookout for more information and share whatever good stuff I find.