The new technology, being developed by Praxair Inc., would change the way coal is burned in the new power plant in a way that would reduce harmful emissions and potentially allow the carbon dioxide produced at the facility to be captured and safely stored underground.
"This would take a good project and make it better," said David Leathers, the general manager for the Jamestown Board of Public Utilities. The agreement, which will be announced at a news conference this morning in the Town of Tonawanda, would give Western New York a second proposal for a new coal-fired power plant that would use new types of technology to reduce harmful emissions.
If funding can be obtained for the projects, the proposed coal-fired power plants at the Huntley Station in the Town of Tonawanda and from the Jamestown Board of Public Utilities could help make the Buffalo Niagara region a center for research into new coal-burning technology, officials said. The University at Buffalo also is interested in creating an education and research center in carbon capture and sequestration that would be associated closely with the proposed plants in Tonawanda and Jamestown.
"This is an excellent opportunity to demonstrate new, world-class technology right in our own community," said Charles McConnell, a Praxair vice president.
The Jamestown plant would be a demonstration project for a coal-burning technology advanced by Praxair, known as oxy-coal. That process uses oxygen during the combustion process and recirculates the flue gas to remove contaminants. By the end of the process, the remaining gas is largely carbon dioxide, which is believed to cause global warming. The carbon dioxide then could be captured and compressed before being transported by pipeline to an underground storage site, although the e currently is no economical way of sequestering carbon dioxide on a large scale.
"It looks promising and it's a great opportunity for Western New York," said George Rusk, a vice president at Ecology & Environment, a Lancaster environmental services firm that has been working on the project.
"This would be the first demonstration project to show if, what it can do on a small scale, can work on a larger scale." The new Jamestown coal plant, which would produce about 40 megawatts of electricity, would replace an aging unit that supplies electricity to the municipal utility in Jamestown.
The $145 million plant would use a process known as circulating fluidized bed technology to burn the coal. That process would reduce emissions compared with its existing plant, and the addition of the oxy-coal process would cut them further, to the point where the plant's emissions are less than that of a facility that runs on natural gas, Rusk said.
Finding funding for the oxycoal project could be a major hurdle. The process could add $100 million to the Jamestown plant's price tag, Leathers said. That portion of the project cost should not be borne by the municipal utility's ratepayers, he said. Rusk said officials hope to obtain state and federal funding for the demonstration project.
While the oxy-coal process is being adopted on some small power plant projects in Europe, the Jamestown facility would be the first in the United States to use the technology on a large scale. "It's a little bit unproven, in that it hasn't been done on a large scale," Rusk said.
"If it proves out, there could be some significant economic advantages that could come." The Huntley Station in the Town of Tonawanda won a statewide competition last year to be the site for a new clean coal plant that would replace the aging boilers at what environmentalists have criticized as one of the nation's dirtiest power plants. But the state stopped short of giving the project the go-ahead until additional funding, aid or cost savings can be found to make the electricity the new plant would produce be competitively priced.
NRG officials are continuing to work on ways to make the project economically viable.