Progress continues on BWL co-generation plant

Lansing, MI – The huge slab of dirt along Washington Avenue in Lansing's REO Town neighborhood will soon be covered in concrete. Since May, crews have been preparing the future site of the Lansing Board of Water and Light's new co-generation power plant. The facility will come online in the summer of 2013 and will produce both steam and electric power.

MARK NIXON: Well, we're finishing up what's called auger cast piling installation, which is a fancy way of saying they're drilling down to bedrock and installing concrete pillars. There's approximately 1,100 of them that need to be installed; we're almost done with that. Once that is done, probably in the next week to two weeks, we'll be starting to lay concrete, the actual concrete pad on which the building will rest. And I think from there on, probably beginning in early January, then you're going to see the skeletal structure, the steel structure begin to take form, and that's when people really, I think, will notice that this is going to be a really big, imposing building.

KEVIN LAVERY: Are we still on a 2013 timeline for completion?

NIXON: We are on time and on budget. We are still looking at July 1, 2013 to be operational, and that would mean people in the building working and us producing both electricity and steam.

LAVERY: Are there things happening behind the scenes administratively with regulatory agencies to clear the way once everything is finished and up and running and we're completed with construction?

NIXON: Well, there's a whole bunch of things. For instance, we've already - in our other two power plants; at the Erickson Plant in Delta Township - have installed some pollution control devices that are making, we think, significant reductions in greenhouse gases. We're studying the very same type of mechanism and technology for the Eckert plant. The Eckert is a little more problematic; it's bigger and it's much older. So therefore, you really do come down to how much can you afford to spend, or do you consider, perhaps at some point shuttering this structure. We're also waiting for the other shoe to fall; the other shoe to drop. That would be the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency). What are they going to do? Those are the calculations that we're going through right now.

I will say, regardless of what the EPA does and regardless of what we do with the other two power plants, the fact is, on July 1, 2013, a coal-fired steam plant which is connected to the Eckert plant is going to be decommissioned. It's going to be mothballed, basically. This plant will take its place. In doing so, it's going to mean a reduction of coal burning by 139,000 tons a year. Another translation, that means a 50 percent reduction in greenhouse gases and more than a 90 percent reduction in mercury emissions, all after July 1, 2013 due to this co-generation facility.

LAVERY: Will the powering down of that plant you just mentioned be happening before July 1, 2013? Will people see a gradual reduction in power and a gradual reduction in service?

NIXON: Yes, and the reason is simply seasonal. The steam that the Moores Park steam plant produces is really for winter use. It's to serve General Motors' plants as well as downtown Lansing. As it gets warmer, there's going to be less demand, therefore there's going to be less demand from our coal plant, which means less production or less combustion of coal. So, I would say probably between the winter of 2012-2013 and July 2013 you are going to see a reduction. It's simply a seasonal matter.

LAVERY: What's the next immediate step in the timeline?

NIXON: The next immediate step in the timeline is we'll be seeing a lot of concrete, many feet thick of concrete spread out throughout this entire site, which will actually be the concrete pad on which the building rests. It will be literally the ground floor. And then we'll see probably in mid-January the high steel start to go up.