Ohio pollution controls are showing wear after as little as a year.
Coal-fired power plants across the country are being checked for corrosion problems on billions of dollars’ worth of equipment that is supposed to cut air pollution. And the results from three power companies in Ohio show that the scrubbers are corroding at a much faster rate than was expected.
Coal scrubbers – some 15 stories tall — spray a slurry of water and limestone into coal flumes to capture most of the pollutants before they’re released into the air. The scrubbers cost up to $500 million, and are supposed to last 25 years.
But Akron-based FirstEnergy discovered corrosion in three new scrubbers at its plant along the Ohio River. None of is older than a year. American Electric Power also found corrosion at four plants in Ohio and West Virginia. And Duke Energy found it at its Southwest Ohio plant.
A national inquiry is now underway by The Electric Power Research Institute.
John Shingledecker is the senior project manager for the institute. He says he’s seen corrosion in as little as 11 months, and in wide variety of scrubbers.
“There was some initial thought that there was only one particular alloy that was being affected,” he said.
“But there are now different types of alloys, some that have been used in the past as well. And we’ve seen it in multiple designs and multiple manufacturers.”
Shingledecker says figuring out the cause of the corrosion could take two years, and in the meantime coal-fired power plants can use protective coatings or clay tiles to try to stop the corrosion.
But American Electric Power spokesman Pat Hemlepp says his company’s scrubbers are operating safely.
”We are working with the industry to address what happening. As far as an environmental standpoint, the equipment does what it’s supposed to do,” he said. “The equipment is taken down for maintenance routinely just like the plants are. And we’re doing whatever is necessary during those maintenance periods to take care of the corrosion issue. It’s not a safety issue, it’s not a health issue.”
Hemlepp says the cost of maintaining the scrubbers has already been calculated into customer bills.
The Columbus Dispatch reported this week that AEP negotiated a confidential settlement with, a contractor on the scrubbers to address corrosion at its central Ohio plants.