Coal as an energy source is used in Fairbanks, Alaska. The EPA is considering the start-up of another 50 MW power plant at Healy.
Alaska has a lot of coal. Perhaps up to 3.5 trillion tons of coal, spread across over 30,000 square miles. Pressure to develop this resource has intensified in recent years because of the increased global demand for coal, the sheer size of the resource and the prospect of increased arctic shipping with declining sea ice.
Privately owned Usibelli Coal Mine Inc. currently manages several coal mining leases in the Healy area to produce around 2 million tons of coal per year. Around half of this coal is burned in the Fairbanks area, and the remainder is exported to South Korea and Chile via the Seward Coal Terminal. Usibelli coal is burned at six different locations in the state; Fort Wainwright (20 MW), Eielson Air Force Base (25 MW), Clean Air Force Station (22.5 MW), Aurora Energy LLC (25 MW), University of Alaska Fairbanks (23 MW), and a GVEA “mine mouth” plant in Healy (25 MW).
In early 2012, Healy Clean Coal Project was awarded air quality permits from the Alaska DEC. The operating utility (GVEA) and the state (current owner) are both strongly pushing the restart of this facility. The EPA may call for a more detailed review which would significantly increase the cost and time to operation. Consume 300,000 tons of coal per year (from Usibelli Coal Mine Inc.) to produce 50 MW of electricity for the State.
Alaska has used energy from coal for decades. It could produce more for domestic use or, more likely for export. The economics for coal energy are not improving for a few reasons. First, the State is moving forward with a large hydro project that will generate 600 MW of energy within the decade. Second, natural gas is becoming the fuel of choice for reasons of lower price and lower emissions. Third, natural gas technology since 2000, with the advent of “combined-cycle” power plants has become more efficient at producing electricity. On average in the United States coal generated is 31-34% efficient, compared to 44% for natural gas. Finally, Alaska is moving toward a gas pipeline to south-east Alaska, hence undermining the economics of any new coal fired plants.