The three smokestacks of the Ameren Labadie power plant have been fixtures on the landscape of the Missouri River for more than 40 years. The plant today is continuously evolving, adding new …
Labadie power plant continues to evolve
By Monte Miller, Record Staff Writer
The three smokestacks of the Ameren Labadie power plant have been fixtures on the landscape of the Missouri River for more than 40 years.The plant today is continuously evolving, adding new automated systems and upgrading features, while providing power to about 1.2 million customers.The Labadie plant is the fourth largest producer of energy in the United States and third overall for coal fired facilities.On Thursday, Plant Director Greg Vasel took this reporter on a top to bottom tour of the plant to give an inside look of the facililty.Vasel, who has worked at the plant for a little over 20 years, recently acquired the top spot at the plant and is still impressed by its efficiency and output.View From AboveThe tour started literally at the top with an overview from the roof of the plant, which is still dwarfed by the smokestacks that are 700 feet tall, about 70 feet taller than the Gateway Arch.From the roof you can see the enormous coal pile the plant keeps in stock to fuel the boilers that produce the steam that turns the turbines, that produce the electricity.Vasel explained the plant keeps a 60-day supply of coal on site at any given time to prepare for unseen circumstances like railroad strikes or natural disasters that might break the supply chain of coal coming in to the plant.On average, 135 to 150 train cars of coal come in to the plant each day from the Powder River Basin in Wyoming. Each railcar carries 100 tons of coal.As the coal comes into the facility on railcars, it is dumped into a hopper, then conveyed into large piles that are then positioned using GPS to contour the piles which facilitate better drainage and drying for better combustion.From the opposite side of the roof, facing the river, which is used as a cooling pond, you can see the outlets that deposit water back into the main channel.Vasel explained water temperatures are monitored downstream and water output is regulated to just 10 degrees warmer than the ambient river temperature depending on the season.The warm water output area draws in fish and is a favorite spot for local fishermen.Moving DownComing inside from the roof is a decent into the bowels of the plant that are a maze of miles and miles of staircases, catwalks and piping.As expected, temperatures inside a building housing a coal furnace can be very hot. Even on a fairly mild summer day, temps inside the upper portions of the plant can be well above 100 degrees.That is just a drop in the bucket compared to the 2,800 degrees inside the boiler itself.After being brought into the plant on conveyor belts, coal is ground into a fine powder and blasted into the furnace, at the four corners, which makes for even hotter and more efficient boiler temperatures.The byproduct of coal combustion, which is coal ash, is either captured through filters in a newly added $190 million system or deposited in the still under construction coal ash landfill.Vasel said 66 percent of the coal ash byproduct is recycled and used to make concrete.On the GroundAfter making it back to the ground floor where the actual generators are located, the tour then entered one of two control rooms that each monitor two of the four generators.Inside the air-conditioned comfort of the control room, all plant operations are displayed on dozens of screens both large and small.The four generators at the plant spin at 3,600 RPMs, using steam at 1,000 degrees and generate 600 megawatts of energy each. The generators, which are about the size of a school bus, generate enough electricity to power 40 percent of the city of St. Louis each year.Vasel said the automation of the plant control room has been a recent addition and up until then, the room was filled with a lot of levers, knobs and wheels.Into the Future The continued upgrades at the plant and ever increasing demands for power are driving Ameren to keep the Labadie Energy Center competitive with other energy sources.The Labadie Ameren plant was built in 1972 and is one of the largest coal-burning power plants in the state.Recently, Ameren announced plans to operate the Labadie plant until the year 2042.