For more than 100 years, coal-fired boilers at Columbia’s Municipal Power Plant have helped power the city’s electric needs.
Just outside the plant, a once-towering heap of coal has dwindled since the last 1,800-ton load arrived on Sept. 1.
It will not be replenished. At 5:30 p.m. Sept. 22, the last day of summer, the Municipal Power Plant burned its last load of coal.
The city-owned plant’s two coal-fired boilers join a growing number of small, aging coal-fired units across the country that have gone cold in the face of tighter environmental regulations on emissions. A third boiler will continue to burn natural gas.
Instead of coal, the power plant will conduct trials to burn waste wood, a renewable fuel.
Connie Kacprowicz of Columbia Water and Light said it’s been known for a long time that the plant’s two coal-fired boilers were old, inefficient and too costly to upgrade to meet EPA standards.
Before this year, power production superintendent Christian Johanningmeier said, the boilers in question, which are both more than 50 years old, burned about 50,000 tons of coal each year to generate electricity during winter and summer months.
An EPA rule for mercury and other heavy metals that goes into effect at the start of next year would have further limited coal-fired electric production.