#36 – Inside Our Industry – Cultivate a Second Life for Decommissioned Power Plants

Posted on | Inside Our Industry

Whether we agree with the decision or not, many coal-fired powerplants will be (or have been) decommissioned as we transition to renewable energies. Within a couple hours drive from our home office in Effingham, IL, are a handful of powerplants that are either shut down or scheduled to be by 2027. Could these shuttered plants provide industrial development opportunities for their communities?

Cultivate a Second Life for Decommissioned Power Plants
Courtney Dunbar & Jeff Pope  |  Burns & McDonnell  |  Q1 2021

The generation landscape for utilities is in a state of constant change. The decarbonization movement is driving difficult decisions as coal-fired power plants close amid the transition to renewable generation. But there is opportunity within that disruption.

Decommissioned power plant sites offer industrial developers a great deal of opportunity — specifically, decades of well-maintained assets. The majority of these facilities were built more than 50 years ago with access to everything they needed to operate — connections that would require extensive time and capital investments to put in place today. Rather than seeking greenfield locations, industrial developers should take a closer look at repositioning these sites.

Coal-fired power plants are sprawling sites, teeming with invaluable assets. To establish a buffer between facilities and the communities served, these plants were often placed on hundreds of acres with distribution lines and substations installed to transmit the power generated. Infrastructure to accommodate water and wastewater needs was constructed, and multimodal transportation connections were established to bring materials in and out of the plant.

Industrial developers can take advantage of these well-maintained, high-value assets and breathe new life into their purpose. For example, distribution lines that sent power out can be reversed to bring power into a new industrial facility, and a rail or barge connection that brought coal to the plant can be used to take products and materials in or out of a facility. Developers can take advantage of the permitting and regulatory hurdles that had been overcome by the utilities in years past, generating a potential savings today in both time and money.

Repositioning of expansive decommissioned sites also offers multiuse possibilities. Most industrial facilities don’t require the hundreds of acres that former power plant sites offer. Therefore, a campus arrangement could position several viable solutions within one site, such as a solar field for the utility or developer as well as multiple locations for different facilities — offering load gains for the utility and a cost-effective green approach for industrial developers.