Wright-Patt to undergo $15M project to switch plants from coal to natural gas

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Wright-Patterson will convert up to two coal-burning plants to natural gas-fired central heating plants, a switch prompted by more stringent Environmental Protection Agency air emission regulations, base officials said.

The $15.4 million project to covert one of the plants, with an option for $9.7 million in additional work on the second, must meet a target deadline of January 2016, according to base officials.

“We’re on track to do that by the deadline,” said Col. Cassie B. Barlow, commander of the 88th Air Base Wing. The conversion will bring an estimated cost savings of $2.3 million a year and substantially reduce plant emissions, she said.

Beavercreek-based Butt Construction Co, part of the Walsh-Butt Joint Venture which won the competitively bid contract, will begin on site work in 2014, said Bill Butt Jr., Butt Construction president.

Under the plan to meet the EPA’s “Maximum Achievable Control Technology” standard, Wright-Patterson will shut down two coal-fired boilers, convert four others to natural gas, and install combustion controls on three natural gas-fired boilers, according to the Regional Air Pollution Control Agency in Dayton. The agency estimated the switch will eliminate 1,000 tons of sulfur dioxide emissions, 200 tons of nitrogen oxides, five tons of particulate emissions and 290,000 tons of greenhouse gas emissions released into Miami Valley skies.

Combined, the plants consume 44,000 tons of coal a year, according to David A. Perkins, Wright-Patterson director of civil engineering.

The technological changes were needed to comply with the Federal National Emissions Standards for Hazardous Air Pollutants for industrial and commercial boilers and will eliminate seasonal shutdowns to comply with environmental permits, according to RAPCA. The Ohio EPA has given the go-ahead for two permits to start work.

A base study showed its cheaper to convert the coal-fired boilers to natural gas than pay for new coal-burning emissions control technology. “So there will be a cost savings and a pollution savings achieved over time,” Dina Pierce, an agency spokeswoman in Columbus, said in an email.

The 8,145-acre base with more than 700 buildings has two coal-fired plants to generate centralized heat: A high-temperature, hot water facility built in the mid-1970s is in Area A in the Kitty Hawk area along Ohio 444; and a steam-generating plant built in 1946 is in Area B, near National Road and Old State Route 4.

Initial work will demolish coal-handling equipment at both plants, Butt said. Roughly 50 construction workers will work on the project.

The company is awaiting word on an option to convert boilers to natural gas inside the Kitty Hawk plant, Butt said.

The Air Force may instead tear down the old plant and use third-party funding, under what it calls an energy performance savings contract, to construct satellite boilers on the base, Perkins said Friday. Decentralized boilers may save energy lost now because of heat transfer, he said.

Using third-party funding, the government would repay construction costs over years and retain ownership, he said.

The Air Force has a deadline to decide what it will do with the Kitty Hawk plant in Area A prior to the contract option with Walsh-Butt expiring at the end of January, Perkins said.

In future years, the steam-generating plant in Area B could be converted to an alternative fuel as new technologies emerge, he added. “It leaves us the biggest bang for trying to do some alternative energy sources down the road,” he said.

Butt said every construction project has grown in importance to his company because federal budget cuts have slashed spending at Wright-Patterson. “Every job is very important to us because of that,” he said. “For people who do a lot of government construction work like we do, it’s having a major impact.”

Butt Construction is in the midst of a three-year, $86 million Wright-Patterson Medical Center renovation covering 250,000 square feet, or nearly half of the hospital complex, with completion scheduled in December 2014.

To supply the coal plants, Wright-Patterson spends $6.5 million to $7 million a year on low sulfur coal and about $2 million to run the plants, base figures show.

Perkins said the price of the coal the plants burn has been “going up and up and up” while natural gas prices have dropped with discoveries of massive domestic natural gas deposits buried in shale formations.

“It’s easier for us and cheaper for us now to get off coal and on to natural gas and not do the capital upgrades that we would need,” he said.

While the base has been on a Defense Department-directed initiative to privatize utilities, such as the repair and operation of underground pipelines, Perkins said government workers would run the converted plants as they have for decades.

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