Wednesday, February 14, 2018

More on coal-fired electricity generation

During that cold snap a few weeks ago, the electric grid in the upper part of the Ohio Valley and elsewhere relied strongly on coal-fired generation to meet demand. But what about now that the weather is milder? Where is the power coming from?

A few days ago I tracked usage and generation in the PJM Interconnection territory. PJM, for those who are unfamiliar with wholesale electric markets, is the regional transmission organization that coordinates the movement of wholesale electricity in all of Delaware, Maryland, New Jersey, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia, West Virginia and the District of Columbia, most of eastern Kentucky and small parts of Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, North Carolina and Tennessee.

PJM operates a competitive wholesale electricity market and manages the high-voltage electricity grid to ensure reliability for more than 65 million people.

So with demand at more normal levels, what role did coal play in the region’s power generation mix? Throughout the day on Monday, Feb. 12, coal’s share of the load ranged from about 30 percent of generation to 32 percent. That put it ahead of natural gas but behind nuclear power.

I haven’t done an overnight tracking, but from few times I checked the data, coal’s share fell during the night hours and gas’s share increased.

Renewables play a small part in the PJM area generation mix.

News from around the Ohio Valley

The CEO of the TVA is receiving criticism because the agency has purchased a luxury helicopter and two jets to ferry high-ranking employees of potential large electricity customers around the region. That and the fact CEO has a $6.5 million annual compensation package while some customers' rates continue to go up.

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The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review looks at how infrastructure needs on the Allegheny River would fare if President Trump's budget plan goes through: "The Allegheny River's locks and dams are on quite the roller coaster courtesy of the president's budget, with a 260 percent boost in fiscal year 2018 from the previous year, then a 56 percent decrease in fiscal 2019."

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And it looks like spending $2.3 billion to build two new bridges at Louisville has eased traffic congestion in that city, according to this report from WDRB.

Statistical ports, a real port and a future port

A while back, I noted the silliness of certain cities along the Ohio River of extending the boundaries of their “ports” so they could claim to be the largest inland port in the U.S. Pittsburgh, Huntington and Cincinnati have played that game, with Cincinnati being the most recent player, taking the title of largest port away from us here in America’s Best Community.

These are ports in name only, as there is no real port authority in Huntington operating as a business unit. Which brings us to what’s going on at Mount Vernon, Ind. On the Waterways Journal website, you’ll see an article beginning, “The Port of Indiana-Mount Vernon handled more cargo in 2017 than any port in the 57-year history of Indiana's port system. This was the third straight year the port handled more than 6 million tons, resulting in a three-year average that was 60 percent higher than the previous three years. Port shipments exceeded 5 million tons only one time prior to 2015.”

From the port’s website: “Port of Indiana-Mount Vernon is one of the largest inland ports in the country, handling more cargo than any other port in the state. Located near the median center of the U.S. population and only 153 miles from the confluence of the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers, the port serves agriculture, coal and manufacturing industries by connecting the Ohio River Valley Region of the Midwest to the world with year-round access to the Gulf of Mexico and Great Lakes through the Inland Waterways System.”

Which brings us to Cairo, Ill. 

That city has had hard times in recent decades, and it hopes that a port on the Mississippi a few miles above the mouth of the Ohio will help turn things around. The WJ had an article in this week’s issue, but I don’t see it online. I did find one on the AgriNews web site. An excerpt: “Cairo’s unique location at the confluence of the Mississippi and Ohio rivers and 180 river miles from St. Louis is what the developers say is its biggest selling point for agriculture, industry and transportation interests.

“Another one is its vicinity to regional grain and coal sources, other southbound cargo and existing access to rail lines and interstate highways, as well as a strategic terminal location for northbound cargo before hitting the growing river traffic in St. Louis.”

The article says port developers would have preferred to put the port on the Ohio, but there is no available property there.