The reprieve approved by the Kentucky Division of Air Quality means 454-megawatt Green, the Henderson, Kentucky-based generation and transmission co-op’s largest baseload generating station, and 417-MW Wilson will have until April 2016 to get the needed controls to meet MATS. Big Rivers plans to install both dry-sorbent injection and activated carbon injection technology on Green’s two units and on Wilson’s single unit to reduce mercury emissions. The environmental improvements should allow both plants to continue burning the region’s high-sulfur steam coal for many more years.

Green’s units went into commercial operation in 1979 and 1981. The plant is located near Robards in northeastern Webster County. Wilson, built for about $760 million in the mid-1980s and the co-op’s newest plant, is located near Matanzas in Ohio County.

There had been speculation about the future of Green and Wilson after Big Rivers deactivated its 444-MW Coleman coal plant near Hawesville in Hancock County in May 2014. The move came after the co-op’s two largest customers, aluminum smelters owned and operated by Century Aluminum Co., terminated a long-term power supply agreement with Big Rivers and started buying less expensive electricity off the wholesale power market.

Big Rivers continues to offer Coleman for sale while retaining the possibility of restarting the plant in a few years, according to Big Rivers spokesman Marty Littrel. The co-op also is evaluating a possible conversion of Coleman, built around 1970, to natural gas.

Big Rivers burns more than 4 million tons of steam coal annually, with most coming from area coal mines. Three years ago, the co-op canceled a contract to purchase at least 800,000 tons of coal a year from Oxford Resources Partners’ then-surface mines in neighboring Muhlenberg County. Oxford subsequently filed a breach of contract suit against Big Rivers that finally was settled last summer when the co-op agreed to pay $19.5 million to Oxford, based in Columbus, Ohio.

Loss of the Big Rivers contract caused Oxford to pull out of western Kentucky and return to its Northern Appalachian roots. Oxford was acquired by Westmoreland Coal Co. late last year.