Repurposing coal plants for a new century
We’ve chronicled how 2020 will be the year that renewable energy overtakes coal in the US. But what’s being done with the coal plants that are going into disuse? Actually some pretty cool things in a lot of places, thanks to companies such as Environmental Liability Transfer and Commercial Development Company. They’ve been working to give these old plants a second life, sometimes still as energy hubs, sometimes something else altogether.
The Wisconsin college’s student union and rec center, known as the Powerhouse, used to be the Blackhawk Generating Station on the Rock River. Now, with help from Environmental Liability Transfer, it’s a 120,000 sq. ft. sustainably designed communal space for Beloit’s 16,000 students with a fitness center, riverwalk, and theater. There’s even a full-size pool that hosts intercollegiate meets. The Powerhouse opened just before COVID-19 hit, but it’s sure to be enjoyed by generations of Beloit students.
Brayton Point Commerce Center
The Somerset, Mass., plant was once the biggest coal-fired power plant in New England. Now thanks to CDC it’s a renewable energy hub, manufacturing center, and international seaport. Brayton Point runs logistics for an offshore wind farm, and its deep-water port has 34-foot draft depths. At 50 miles from Boston, it’s ideally located for transitioning shipments between water and land, and it still connects power to the New England grid.
Becker Industrial Park
Bonding issues are holding up development, but Google and Xcel fully intend to convert a decommission coal plant in Minnesota to a data center powered by two wind farms. “Google will be the anchor tenant in our business park that will help attract even more capital investments, provide professional level wages, a new economy of jobs and a long-term economic vitality,” Becker mayor Tracy Betram said.
Blue Valley Power Plant
Independence, Mo., just outside Kansas City is entertaining proposals to turn the coal plant into a biofuel power plant or a battery farm. The biofuel plant would be run by California-based Aemetis, which runs several similar plants worldwide. The battery storage proposal, by Colorado’s Able Grid Energy Solutions, would have a 50-megawatt capacity. The coal plant closed in June, and it will be several months before Independence decides.
Ottawa Street Station
The Lansing, Mich., landmark went offline in 1992 and served as a water chilling plant after that. It reopened in 2011 as the headquarters for the Accident Fund Insurance Company of America. The art deco design recognized as a historic building by the National Park Service has earned a LEED gold certification for environmentally friendly design.
B.C. Cobb Plant
The Muskegon, Mich., coal plant was retired in 2016. Verplank Dock Co. plans to build 1,200 foot deep-water dock at the site on Lake Michigan to serve as a marine port terminal. “Hopefully some cross-lake/short-sea shipping will take off as well,” Verplank CEO Ron Matthews said. Muskegon is directly across the lake from Milwaukee, and Chicago is also a large port on the lake that the plant could ship goods to.
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