New Power Plant Adds Barge Tonnage To Red River

Navigation interests and customers of Cleco Corporation appear to be the big winners in the investor-owned utility’s decision to build a $1 billion circulating fluidized bed (CFB) power plant with the ability to burn multiple fuels.

Cleco has 277,000 customers and was looking to diversify its fuels for its third power plant near Boyce, La., in central Louisiana in 2004. It chose to use petroleum coke, known as pet coke, for its new 600 megawatt Madison III plant. Pet coke is a byproduct of petroleum refineries that is available nearby in large quantities.

The facility, called the Brame Energy Center, already has two plants burning mostly natural gas and coal. The plants are named the Nesbitt I and Rodemacher II. Pipelines bring in the natural gas and rail cars carry the coal from the Powder River Basin in Wyoming.

Pet coke is barged from Exxon, Valero and Marathon refineries on the Mississippi River below Baton Rouge, through the Old River Lock and 107 miles up the Red River. Savage Services, headquartered in Salt Lake City, Utah, with offices in Houston, provides logistics coordination, as well as terminaling operations at Cleco’s dock.

Savage provided 42 barges for the fuel runs through Missouri-based Robert B. Miller & Associates. Terral RiverService, one of the largest operators on the Red River, currently has four towboats dedicated to the project, three of which were built specifically to support Cleco’s operation. (See WJ, November 1, 2010.)

Once it is fully operational, the Madison III plant is expected to burn 1.5 million tons of pet coke a year and use another half-million tons of limestone in the process for emissions control. The process burns the pet coke with few emissions, leaving only a small amount of ash, much of which Cleco sells to industrial users for soil stabilization or highway construction.

“Barging pet coke is a great fit,” for Madison III, said Calvin Johnson, contract originator, fuel, logistics and ash marketing. “Transportation is a big part of fuel cost. That’s why we are barging pet coke and not using rail or truck.”

One of the concerns Johnson expressed was congressional funding of the Corps of Engineers operations and maintenance projects for waterway infrastructure. Currently the Red River draft allows six-pack barges to be loaded to 9-1/2 feet.

“If we could load the barges to 12 feet as most Mississippi River barges are loaded, it would save us several million dollars each year in transportation costs,” Johnson said.

The Brame Energy Center is located on 6,000 acres in hilly land covered with forests of mixed pine and hardwoods. When it built the first power plant there in the 1970s, Cleco flooded 3,000 acres for its cooling system. The Madison III plant is named for Michael H. Madison, Cleco president and chief executive officer, who directed the project.

Hot water discharged from the plants is recirculated through a series of dams and weirs to cool the water before it enters the cycle again to condense steam that is produced in the boilers. The steam turns the turbines to generate electricity.

Local residents are allowed to fish in the pond and find the bass fishing best on the hot water side as the cooler weather sets in, said Robbyn Cooper, communications representative, who conducted the tour with Johnson.

Cleco’s property includes an “ox-bow,” a large bend in the Red River that was cut off as the channel changed course many years ago. The company dredged a channel 200 feet wide and 12 feet deep in the ox-bow to bring barges near the plant.

Six-pack tows are tied up in the ox-bow downstream from the unloading facility. Two barges at a time are then tethered to the unloading facility. The crane operator controls a Wintech winch at each end of the dock to position the barges for unloading with the electrical-powered E-Crane.

As a barge is being unloaded, the crane lowers a front-end loader called a sweeper into the barges. There is very little product left in the barge when the crane operator is finished.

Not only is the operation very quiet, very little dust is created. Water jets are available to keep dust down, but were not needed while unloading limestone when The Waterways Journal visited the site.

The E-Crane drops its load of pet coke or limestone into a hopper, distributing it onto a conveyor belt which is about an inch thick. As the belt advances, strategically positioned rollers fold up the edges of the belt, completely enclosing the product and preventing any loss. It appears as a rubberized pipe as it travels to the plant.

The conveyor runs over a state highway and under Interstate 49 before reaching Madison III a mile and a half away. In all, the conveyor belt is three miles long and runs with a quiet humming sound.

Tows are built at multiple fleets, including Bayou Fleet and St. Johns Fleet on the Mississippi River because of its proximity to the refineries supplying the pet coke. The limestone arrives by ship from quarries in the Yucatan Peninsula, Mexico, and is transloaded to barges at the IC Rail Terminal in Convent, La.

It takes about eight days for Terral RiverService tows to make the round trip, including offloading barges.

Because of the currents on the Red River following heavy rains, Johnny Martin, operations manager for Terral RiverService, told The Waterways Journal during the recent christening of the Amy T that the boats used to service Madison III were designed “as riverboats, not canal boats” with V-bows to cut the currents and oversized rudders to assist in steering.

Construction on the facility began in 2006. Cleco had always been short in electrical generating capacity, Johnson said, and had purchasing agreements with other electrical suppliers to make up the difference. Now it generates electricity at a lower cost than it can buy it and has excess capacity.

The plant can also burn bio-fuels, particularly wood products, if that becomes a cheaper fuel than pet coke, Johnson explained. The limestone is used in the boilers to absorb sulfur and reduce emissions.

Cleco has the capacity to store up to 450,000 tons—a 90-day supply—of pet coke and a 40-day supply of limestone at its facility. Building the plant to burn several fuels and barging low-cost pet coke from refineries on the Mississippi River has dramatically increased the tonnage on the Red River, qualifying it for additional consideration by Congress and the Corps of Engineers.

“We are excited that Cleco decided to make the investment on their new plant, adjacent to the Red River, to use waterborne transportation for their fuel delivery,” said Richard Brontoli, executive director if the Red River Valley Association in Shreveport, La.

“We are dedicated to keeping our waterway safe, efficient and dependable for customers like Cleco,” he added. “Projects like this will be an example to other industries that using barge transportation, on the J. Bennett Johnston Waterway (Red River), is viable and economically justified.”

Whether other industries follow Cleco’s lead, 277,000 electric customers in Louisiana will be happy their utility company chose to use barges to move fuel, when they pay lower electric bills each month.

Source: Waterways Journal, January 2011


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