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Big Sandy Power Plant takes step toward transformation

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LOUISA A new transformer is more than meets the eye at the Big Sandy Power Plant.

Police blocked U.S. Route 23 and Kentucky Power wheeled the first of four 700,000-pound transformers into the Baker Substation on a frigid Friday morning.

The new machinery is part of a more significant transformation at the plant.

American Electric Power, the parent company of Kentucky Power Company, shut down the larger unit of the Big Sandy branch last year. The company cited stricter Environmental Protection Agency regulations that would spike monthly fees for area residents, according to the company.

Now the smaller generator, Big Sandy No. 1, is transitioning toward natural gas conversion. On Friday, the company crept toward a milestone in the plant’s $70-million expansion project. One crew installed the new transformer at the substation while another chiseled away at the natural gas conversion process.

“We’re doing this so we can bring in the power that used to come from the power plant,” said Ron Davis, an engineer with Kentucky Power.

Davis said the new transformers allow the plant to step down the transmission voltage of 765,000 volts to 345,000 volts.

The transformers were manufactured and shipped from Sweden. Kentucky Power received the machine and delivered it to Lawrence County by rail. Three new 765,000-volt reactors and switches were also installed recently, after one of the 1970s-model reactors caught fire.

Kentucky Power President Greg Pauley said the upgrade is an example of how the company is modernizing its “power-delivery infrastructure.” The company also notched a win last week when the Kentucky Court of Appeals approved a request by former state Attorney General Jack Conway.

Conway asked to drop a court-action attempt he filed to stop Kentucky Power from buying half of a West Virginia power plant.

By purchasing 50 percent of the Mitchell Power Plant in Moundsville, West Virginia, Kentucky Power was able to recoup “nearly all of the generated power” it lost when it ceased operations at Big Sandy Power Plant Unit 2, according to a press release.

Last August, then-democratic gubernatorial candidate Conway joined a lawsuit against the EPA after it proposed President Obama’s new Clean Power Plan.

Kentucky Power is preparing for the rollout of the new plan. Under the regulations, state must use less coal and more win, solar and natural gas. But the plan is still idling after the U.S. Supreme Court delayed it with a stay motion.

Upgrading what’s left of the Big Sandy Power Plant by installing new transformers and converting the plant to natural gas production will meet EPA standards and serve as a “cost-effective” solution for customers, Pauley said.

The Frankfort-based Kentucky Power Company services the homes of 170,000 customers in eastern Kentucky.

Kentucky Power is slated to finalize the natural gas conversion of Big Sandy Power Plant Unit 1 and return to operation on June 1. Baker Substation will receive the second of four new transformers next week.

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aadkins@dailyindependent.com