Fire Shuts Recommissioned Coal Plant

Tuesday, March 8, 2016 @ 12:03 PM gHale


A fire inside the Healy Unit 2 coal feed system in Fairbanks, Alaska, shut down the facility two days after the coal-fired plant passed its commissioning test.

The fire occurred shortly after 7 p.m. Thursday when an unknown heat source ignited a buildup of coal dust in the air.

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The type of combustion is what’s known in the coal industry as a “puff,” said Golden Valley Electric Association (GVEA) spokeswoman Corinne Bradish.

No one suffered an injury in the fire, though it occurred in a part of the facility where workers frequently work. GVEA benefited from the fact the fire sparked around the time of a shift change, Bradish said. The fire ended up extinguished quickly by the Healy Volunteer Fire Department.

Golden Valley brought the plant back online in May for the first time in 16 years. The electric utility purchased the plant from the Alaska Industrial Development Export Authority in 2012 with plans to renovate and reopen it, with an estimated cost of $190 million.

After restarting the plant, Golden Valley worked to bring it slowly up to full capacity. On Tuesday, two days before the fire, the plant passed its 45-day commissioning test, which assessed whether the plant met certain environmental and economic standards.

This was the first time a “puff” combustion had taken place at the plant under GVEA’s ownership but not the first time it had experienced similar problems during its total lifespan, Bradish said.

“There were some problems when AIDEA owned it and was one of the reasons we didn’t want to take the plant back in ’99,” Bradish said.

Golden Valley shut down the nearby Healy Unit 1 following the event but planned to have it back online by Friday evening. Healy Unit 2 will stay closed indefinitely while they investigate the fire. Bradish said investigators will begin looking into the cause of the ignition next week. From there, they will assess the level of damage and repairs will begin.

At this point, Bradish said, there’s no way to know how long the plant will end up closed.