The Times West Virginian

June 9, 2013

Grant Town Power Plant marks 20 years

By Jessica Borders
Times West Virginian

FAIRMONT — The Grant Town Power Plant takes great pride in the 20 years of service it has provided to the area.

The facility recently celebrated two decades of commercial operation. American Bituminous Power Partners, L.P., or AmBit, owns the plant, which officially opened on May 28, 1993.

Steve Friend has been working at this location for 21 years and has served as station director for four years. The building sits on the former Federal No. 1 mine refuse site, which covers about 370 acres.

He explained that this small, independent power-generation facility burns waste coal mostly from Marion County, but also has one source that currently comes from Monongalia County. The plant, which operates 24-7, coverts waste coal from former mining operations to electrical energy throughout FirstEnergy’s service area.

The facility generates 80 megawatts of electricity into the Mon Power distribution center. This is roughly enough to power 80,000 residential homes, Friend said.

The site has 55 direct employees and 15 to 25 contractors, who cover all aspects of recovering, processing and converting the waste fuel, he said.

In addition to the engineers and administrators, the staff also consists of plant operators and people in the instrumentation and electrical group and the mechanical and maintenance group.

Friend said around 75 percent of the employees have been working at the plant since it opened in 1993.

“The facility is very environmentally friendly,” he said.

The site uses a relatively new boiler technology called circulating fluidized bed, or CFB, to generate electricity in a clean way. Its emissions are very low compared to conventional coal-fired facilities, Friend said.

Over the last 20 years, the facility has continued to improve its operations and maintains a very consistent fuel quality, he said.

“We’ve gotten better at the things that we do,” Friend said. “We’ve had to learn to come up with methods and processes to maintain fuel quality as stably as we can throughout the blending process.”  

Herb Thompson previously worked at the Grant Town Power Plant as station director for 10 years and executive director for nine years.

He explained that operating a facility with waste stream coal fuel is a difficult task. A waste fuel facility has to create its own recipe and deal with material that has been sitting outside and weathered.

The Grant Town plant operates at a high level of performance and reliability because of its innovation with handling the material. The facility’s performance records and standards over the last 20 years are excellent, Thompson said.

One of the plant’s greatest impacts has been its improvement of the local river.

Friend said the major issue with waste coal sites is the production of acid mine drainage from precipitation events. The CFB boiler at Grant Town generates an ash byproduct that neutralizes the acid mine drainage, and as as result has taken the site back to pre-mining conditions.

The Paw Paw Creek is now stocked with trout. Thompson said the plant worked with Grant Town to create a small, handicap-accessible pier across from the facility that has become a popular fishing location.

This is an example of one of many success stories in West Virginia. Crews are working to clean up waste coal sites, reclaim them and reduce the environmental impact, Friend said.

“The plan is to continue to operate the facility in an environmentally friendly manner and continue to clean up and reclaim these sites as we move forward,” he said.

In addition to its environmental impact, the Grant Town Power Plant is also beneficial to the community because it provides well-paying jobs, spends several million dollars in the local area for fuel and supplies, and contributes taxes to Marion County and West Virginia, Friend said.

“The one thing that can’t be overshadowed is the employees that make that place run,” Thompson said.

The workers make the difficult process performed at the plant look easy, he said. They have adopted the slogan “it’s the difference that pride makes,” and a price can’t be put on the positive feeling that the employees have about their work.

Email Jessica Borders at jborders@timeswv.com or follow her on Twitter @JBordersTWV.