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ERE Town Hall: Conversion of a Coal Fired Power Plant to a Cleaner Natural Gas Fueled

ERE 267/167

Lecture Hall C102, Knight Management Center (Grad School of Business)
Open to Members of the Stanford Community and General Public

Members of the Stanford Community and the public are invited to attend. 

This event (a dramatization of a public hearing) is produced by students of ENERGY 167/267 and is co- sponsored by the Graduate School of Business Energy Club. Energy 167/267, taught by Professors Warren Kourt and Kiran Pande, teaches students how to apply engineering and economics to the valuation of energy resources. The students will address the complex issues around reliability of power production, economics, and environmental impact. The students assume roles of key players, including utility executives and engineers, environmental groups’ spokespersons, regulatory agency officials, legislators, local business owners, residents, and others who will voice their point of view about the economic, health and safety effects.

The students have researched a current project involving the Intermountain Power Plant located in Northwest Utah. The Los Angeles Department of Water and Power (LADWP) has contracted to purchase 49% of the electricity produced by the Utah plant. The utility is proposing a bridge to cleaner energy with conversion of the fuel source for the Utah plant from coal to cleaner burning natural gas by 2025, resulting in a significant reduction in CO2 emissions. The plant currently produces enough electricity to power 1.5 million homes and businesses. The plant was constructed in 1986 at a cost of $4.5 Billion. It currently employs 440 people with an annual payroll of $46 Million and has contributed over $620 Million in direct tax payments to the state of Utah and local communities.

The current power contracts expire in 2027 and the plant will likely need refurbishing. In 2018 California Governor Jerry Brown signed legislation (SB100) requiring California utilities generate 60% of their power from renewable energy sources by 2030 and transition to 100% renewables by 2045. LADWP currently gets 20% of their electricity from renewables. The utility is studying various scenarios and pathways to the 60% renewable standard by 2030, just ten years from now. One scenario to reduce CO2 emissions is to convert from coal to cleaner burning natural gas. The new natural gas fueled plant is expected to have a capacity of 840 MW and operate with a much smaller workforce of 125 employees. Although CO2 emissions will be dramatically reduced, the proposal has attracted strong opposition from several environmental groups. Those groups have expressed concern about using natural gas as a fuel source and prefer a direct transition to renewable energy sources. In response to this opposition, LADWP is considering fueling the new plant with a combination of 70% natural gas and 30% hydrogen. Hydrogen is a cleaner burning fuel with zero CO2 emissions. Eventually, by 2045, the plant could be converted to a 100% hydrogen fuel source. There are concerns that the technology has not been adequately proven at this scale. In addition, the costs are much higher with the 30% Hydrogen fuel source. The participating utilities will be obligated to pay for a plant that may not meet their electricity needs due to uncertainty and risk associated with using Hydrogen as a fuel source at this scale.

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