Last year, Sen. Gail Schwartz and Rep. Randy Baumgarten sponsored a bill in the Colorado Senate and House, respectively, that would have provided incentives for companies to use technology to turn previously wasted methane vented from underground coal mines into electricity. The bill passed the House but not the Senate.
The legislation will be reintroduced in 2013, but with the big difference of a successful operation now in place at Oxbow Mining's Elk Creek Mine in Somerset.
"What an amazing regional collaboration," Sen. Schwartz said before last Friday's commissioning of the system.
Tom Vessels, president of Vessels Coal Gas, brought the technology to make this work. It's the first operation of its kind in the U.S. Methane, a greenhouse gas that is 24 times more toxic that carbon dioxide, in the future will no longer pollute the atmosphere after it is vented from Elk Creek Mine. Instead it will become useful electricity that is sent over four DMEA transmission lines to Holy Cross Energy in Aspen. Some of the methane is already being captured and running the generator producing electricity.
Randy Baumgarten, who is now Senator-elect for seven counties in northwest Colorado, believes the legislation will pass both Houses in the Colorado legislature with the efforts of himself, Schwartz, Rep. Millie Hamner and Rep. Don Coram.
"Gov. Hickenlooper was very supportive of this legislation," Baumgarten said. "I think this is a positive step forward for the coal industry." The legislation will allow companies that invest in this kind of system to reclaim part of the money they spend. It's like a performance-based tax credit for technology that is now proven science. "Let's bring more of this type of industry to Colorado to put more people back to work and get more money into our infrastructure," Baumgarten said.
The parties involved in this project are Oxbow Mining, owner and operator of Elk Creek Mine; Gunnison Energy Corporation, majority owner of the natural gas leases underground; Vessels Coal Gas, which manages the operation; Holy Cross Energy, which is buying the electricity being transmitted by DMEA; and Aspen Skiing Company, a partner in the project which will be one of the users of the electricity produced.
Tom Vessels explained it took awhile for those parties to figure out how they would work together and organize their relationships because no one had ever done it before. "There wasn't a template. No one had a contract you could run off your word processor and cut and paste these terms and do it. So we had to start from scratch and it's been about seven years since 2006 when I first met with Jim Cooper [president, Oxbow Mining] and Brad Robertson, [president, Gunnison Energy]. It's been at least 10 years since Randy Udall . . . has been working on this project to make it happen," Vessels said.
Mike Kaplan, president and CEO of Aspen Skiing Company, said, "When I got in the ski business 30 years or so ago, I never imagined in my wildest dreams I'd be standing here at a coal mine talking about our latest partnership and project. And I never would have imagined that project being described as the most exciting, innovative, optimistic, coolest project that I've ever been associated with . . . I'm hoping we can be a model for that and not only here where we think we have more resource available, but beyond."
Kaplan thanked Vessels and Randy Udall for persevering at every roadblock. He credited Jim Cooper for having the vision for Oxbow to be the first mine to do this. He thanked the Crown family, who owns Aspen Skiing Company, for continually pushing to make this happen. "Wasting this resource is a crime and we shouldn't do that," Kaplan said.
Activist Randy Udall commented that coal has been mined in this valley for 120 years. "It's been a long time coming and I'm so proud. I think it's a wonderful day we're celebrating. . . A project like this makes me proud to be an American, proud to be a Coloradan and to be part of the effort it took to pull this together," Udall said. "Raven Ridge, a group of consultants in Grand Junction, did a little survey here in the late '90s, early 2000 period of all three mines and they found that there is a stunning amount of methane being vented here to safeguard the well-being of the miners."
Udall said, "There are 900 rural electric utilities in America. The only one that's agreed to buy coal mine methane-generated electricity is Holy Cross.
"There's about $1 million a month more methane that's not being used by this project that could be used by future generation projects here, and I hope that this is just the beginning," Udall said.
"It's really exciting to see the diverse groups come together," Mike Ludlow, senior vice president of the Oxbow Mining said. "Tom Vessels and his group are probably a little too modest. They've really done a lot of heavy lifting on this project to technically put it together. Oxbow has been a part of the vision. Mr. [William] Koch and Mr. Cooper have seen this a long way off and have supported this project. It has come together and Tom and his group have done an excellent job of making it all happen. What we're going to see today is the result of seven plus years of work by a lot of people.
"Elk Creek Mine started out in 2002 and came to full production in 2003. With coal mining, methane is a by-product. We have to ventilate methane to keep the working area safe for the underground coal miners. As the mine has continued into the mountain it's gotten deeper and farther away from the outcrop, the methane concentrations have actually increased. The ventilation system has increased to keep up with that. In 2008, the methane concentrations became enough that we added the in-seam drainage system that provides the fuel for the generation . . . What was once a by-product of the mining to keep ventilation and air current safe for the people to work in has now become a resource. And the resource has now turned into electricity."
Jerry Otero read a message from U.S. Sen. Mark Udall. "This project showcases the best of our western heritage. Men and women working together to accomplish a common goal . . . The by-product is not only a new energy source and a more efficient, cleaner coal operation, but also a new founded relationship that will continue for many years."
Sen. Udall continued, "The three megawatt project will produce as much energy as Aspen Ski Company uses annually, approximately 24 million kilowatt hours. In addition, by utilizing the methane as fuel this project will eliminate approximately 96,000 tons of CO2 equivalent every year. The equivalent of 13,151 cars on the road."
John Whitney read U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet's comments. "This partnership shows that even when people have divergent interests at times they can set aside their differences to work towards a common goal. This joint effort is exactly what people long to see. Congress could learn a thing or two from your example." This project will produce "enough energy to power 2,000 homes and it will reduce carbon emissions in the atmosphere."
Julian Huzyk, project manager, explained the process involved at Elk Creek Mine. Currently, just enough vented methane is being used to run the generator. Once the thermal oxidizer is running, the vent will be turned off, and then gas will be pulled off selectively into the gas generator system. The generator will generate power at 4,160 volts and then send it to the substation. A transformer turns the voltage into DMEA's transmission voltage of 46,000 volts. A second generator will be installed on the site by the end of this month and a third generator is expected by the end of the year. Methane consumption by each generator will be 220,000 cubit feet each day. That is a fraction of what is being totally vented at the mine right now. When the thermal oxidizer is fully operational, Huzyk estimates 10 to 15 megawatts could be generated from the current methane being vented.blog comments powered by Disqus