Louisville Gas and Electric Co. and Kentucky Utilities Co. projects

Kentucky’s largest utility providers are working to make sure their facilities meet and exceed new federal emissions guidelines. Louisville Gas and Electric (LG&E) Co. and Kentucky Utilities (KU) Co. are overseeing more than $3 billion worth of planned or ongoing upgrades to several of its power plants. 

The company’s projects include replacing 800 megawatts of coal-fired power generation that will be retired at three of its stations before 2016 to meet stricter EPA regulations governing mercury and air toxin standards and the national ambient air quality standards for sulfur dioxide. 

“We asked ourselves what the best economic choice was for ourselves and our consumers, and decided that for these three stations, it was more cost-effective to build new facilities than to upgrade existing ones,” explains John Voyles, vice president of transmission and generation services for the Louisville-based natural gas and electric energy utility.

Although financing the projects will require LG&E and KU to increase customers’ rates, the utilities are ensuring that they are getting the greatest value for their money. “We are picking the lowest-cost options available to comply with federal regulations while still delivering the power our customers expect,” Voyles adds. “We’ve had the benefit with these projects of getting timely approvals so we can lock down EPC contractors and secure rates lower than what we initially estimated.”

LG&E and KU Energy LLC is made up of two entities: LG&E, an electric and natural gas utility serving customers in Louisville and 16 surrounding counties; and KU, an electric utility serving 77 Kentucky counties and five counties in Virginia. 

Combined, LG&E and KU have a generation capacity of 8,300 megawatts and serve 940,000 electricity and 321,000 natural gas customers in a 27,500-square mile transmission and distribution network.

Plant Replacement

The construction teams began work on these projects in late 2012 at Cane Run in Louisville, Ky., where a new natural gas-fueled plant will replace a coal-fired facility that opened in 1954. Bluegrass Power Contractors, a joint venture of PCL Industrial Construction Co. and Black & Veatch, is the EPC contractor on the project.

The new $583 million unit at Cane Run station will be a 640-megawatt natural gas combined-cycle (NGCC) generating unit. An 8.1-mile, 20-inch-diameter natural gas pipeline will connect the facility to an interstate pipeline system. The new unit at the site is anticipated to start up in 2015, after which time the existing Cane Run station will be decommissioned, Voyles says.

Many of the largest components for the NGCC unit are being shipped by barge on the Ohio River, requiring LG&E and KU’s contractors to lease a public boat ramp for offloading purposes because there is no river unloading facility available at the station. Components are then transported two miles by 50-wheel trucks accompanied by bucket truck crews who lift stoplights in order for the components to pass, he adds. 

The combustion turbine and steam turbine were built and shipped via rail from Charlotte, N.C. Contractors and railroad crews evaluated the load-bearing capacities of every bridge between Charlotte and the plant to ensure safe passage of the two turbines.

Safety practices are also in force at the existing Cane Run plant as the project proceeds. “Safety is a top priority for us,” Voyles says. “All of our EPC contractors and subcontractors are very cognizant of safety when they build at our sites, and we have a lot of eyes and ears on the site directly responsible for support construction safety.” 

Staying Busy

The Cane Run project is one of several either under construction or in the planning stages. LG&E and KU’s largest project is the $1 billion modernization of three flue gas desulfurization systems – also known as scrubbers – at its Mill Creek electric generating station in southwest Jefferson County, Ky. The Mill Creek facility burns approximately 5 million tons of coal annually. 

The project, which broke ground in 2012, also includes the installation of four new fabric filter bag house systems. These systems are used in particulate and mercury control for the units at the plant. Zachry Construction of San Antonio is the EPC contractor on the project, slated for completion in 2016.

Other ongoing projects include a $600 million installation of four pulse-jet fabric filter bag house systems at the coal-fired Ghent Generating Station near Carrolton, Ky. Similar projects are underway at two other facilities, Voyles says.

In January of this year, LG&E and KU applied for approval from the Kentucky Public Services Commission, the state utility regulator, to construct another approximately 700-megawatt NGCC unit at its coal-fired Green River plant in western Kentucky. In addition, the company is seeking approval to construct a 10-megawatt solar facility at its Brown Generating Station in Harrodsburg, Ky.

Positive Impact

All of LG&E and KU’s projects will have a positive impact not only on the environment, but also within the communities the company serves. “These projects are having a very major impact on the local economy,” Voyles says, noting that more than 2,500 construction related jobs are being created. “Although the contractors are based headquartered in other parts of the country, they are hiring as many local people as possible.”

The EPC constructors hired for the projects are also contributing to the community through charitable contributions and volunteerism. “They’re really a part of the community, and we enjoy good relationships with them right up to the executive ranks,” he adds. 

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