Kennecott to convert power from coal to natural gas


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MAGNA -- Kennecott Copper announced a new plan Wednesday that will dramatically lower the company's air pollution. Because Kennecott is such a large company, the change may have a noticeable impact on overall air quality in the Salt Lake Valley.

The heart of the new strategy is a coal-fired power plant that provides most of the electricity Kennecott uses. The proposal is a substantial, although incomplete, shift from coal to natural gas.

Kennecott has a huge appetite for electricity -- even the giant shovels in the mine run on electric power, and so do industrial processes converting ore into marketable copper.

The demand for power will increase if the company follows through on expansion plans to extend the life of the mine. That need opened the door to a major upgrade of the power plant.

Kennecott plan to improve air quality
Using natural gas will:
  • Decrease annual emissions of sulfur dioxide (SO2), a particulate matter precursor, by more than 1,900 tons per year - a 99% decrease.
  • Decrease average annual emissions of nitrogen dioxide (NOX), a particulate matter precursor, by more than 1,500 tons per year - a 95% decrease.
  • Decrease PM10 emissions by more than 100 tons per year - a 60% decrease.
  • Decrease primary PM2.5 emissions by 25 tons per year - a 30% decrease.
  • Decrease greenhouse gas intensity of our power from approximately 1 ton of carbon dioxide (CO2) equivalent per megawatt hour produced to approximately 0.54 ton of CO2e/MWh produced.
  • Decrease in truck trips for power plant fuel deliveries - a 60% decrease. Natural gas will be delivered via pipeline directly to the new plant.
-Kennecott Copper

With this new plan, Kennecott will almost double the electrical output while cutting the use of coal by 60 percent. The company suspects the conversion will dramatically reduce emissions of sulfur dioxide and other pollutants.

Kelly Sanders, president and CEO of Kennecott Utah Copper, said, "Not only are we going to convert three of the four boilers to natural gas, we'll be significantly lowering emissions of criteria air pollutants."

The numbers Kennecott claims are impressive: sulfur dioxide will be cut 99 percent; nitrogen oxide, 95 percent; PM-10, 60 percent; and PM-2.5, 30 percent.

"The emission changes from this change that we're doing here at Kennecott is the equivalent to about taking one in 10 cars off the roads in both Salt Lake and Utah Counties," Sanders said.

Former Salt Lake Mayor Rocky Anderson -- current executive director of High Road for Human Rights -- praised Kennecott and its parent company Rio Tinto for taking seriously the severe threat to the climate from greenhouse gases.

"It is fantastic progress," he said. "Those who maintain that we can't grow our economy and our industrial output without an increase in pollution should pay heed to what Rio Tinto is doing in Utah."

The company made it clear, though, the pollution-cutting is closely tied to expansion plans, and the plan is contingent on approval from state and environmental officials.

"If for any reason we were not able to extend the mine life, then we would step back and take another look at what we're doing," Sanders said.

Several environmental and clean air groups issued a joint statement praising Kennecott's move, but expressing disappointment that the company didn't go further. Instead of a 60 percent cut, those groups insist Kennecott should stop burning coal completely.

E-mail: hollenhorst@ksl.com

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