The plant’s outlook has improved considerably since early this year. Then, the Henderson, Kentucky-based generation and transmission co-op was reluctantly preparing to idle Wilson indefinitely if it failed to secure additional sales for the single-unit baseload plant along the Green River near Matanzas in Ohio County.
Big Rivers targeted both Wilson and its 444-MW Coleman coal plant about 50 miles away in Hancock County, Kentucky, for extended idlings after the co-op lost more than 60% of its load when Century Aluminum exited long-term PPAs with Big Rivers and started buying electricity off the wholesale power market. Big Rivers sells wholesale power to three-member distribution co-ops that serve 112,000 customers in 22 western Kentucky counties. Coleman was, in fact, idled a few months ago, and Big Rivers has discussed the possibility of selling the plant to Chicago-based Century.
Big Rivers responded to multiple power solicitations from other U.S. electric utilities and now has signed two such power supply agreements totaling 400 MW, representing almost all of Wilson’s generating capacity over a two-year period.
According to Big Rivers spokeswoman Sharla Austin-Darnell, the co-op recently sold 200 MW of on-peak Wilson power for all of 2015. An initial power sale of 200 MW earlier this year runs through early next year.
That means, she said, Big Rivers has sold 400 MW of on-peak Wilson power for January and February of 2015.
When the first agreement ends, Big Rivers intends to sell the remaining 217 MW of Wilson’s capacity into the Midcontintent Independent System Operator’s (MISO) day-ahead market. MISO is a Carmel, Indiana-based independent system operator in which Big Rivers is a member.
Big Rivers CEO Mark Bailey said the co-op remains a finalist in several utility requests for proposals, so it’s possible Wilson’s commercial operation could be extended beyond 2015. That, at least, is Big Rivers’ intent.
Illinois Basin (IB) coal producers are hoping that is the case. Built in the early 1980s at a cost of about $760 million, Wilson is Big Rivers’ newest power plant. The plant traditionally has burned high-sulfur coal from the IB, in particular western Kentucky.
Altogether, Big Rivers burns more than 4 million tons of thermal coal annually.