The Lafayette Utilities System should drop the coal-powered electricity plant it co-owns in Alexandria in favor of localized power production, according to a consultant for the city-owned utility.

“What we’ve seen is the long-term coal-fired operation of the Rodemacher Power Station Unit 2 does not appear economical, and this is due to a significant number of factors,” said Mike Borgstadt, director of utility consulting for Burns & McDonnell, which was contracted to help LUS plan its next 20 years of electricity generation.

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LUS owns half of the 38-year-old Rodemacher station, which accounts for more than half of the system’s electricity generation, which it shares with CLECO and the Louisiana Energy and Power Authority.  

But the unit’s age and impending regulatory requirements for coal plants could cost LUS an extra $20 million in improvements just to keep the Rodemacher station operational beyond 2027 and in compliance with environmental regulations, according to the study LUS hired Burns & McDonnell to produce.

Jeff Stewart, LUS’s electric power manager and former interim director, said the utility will have to work with the Rodemacher station’s other owners to decide its future, but LUS will recommend that the station stop burning coal to generate electricity and either convert to natural gas or shut down altogether.

“We’re going to work with the joint owners to determine the (Rodemacher station’s) future and potential end of life options. Our recommendation will be to retire the unit from coal, but we’re not quite ready yet to say what happens after that,” Stewart said.

“We don’t have to get away from coal, but the ultimate path before us is that it’s the most economic move we can make. Beyond 2027, it could really be costly for us to continue operating the coal plant,” Stewart added. “What we recommend for our customers is the lowest cost path forward that also satisfies environmental regulations.”

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To make up for all the power the Rodemacher station provides for LUS, Burns & McDonnell recommend that LUS consider replacing the station’s energy production over the next five years with an incremental solar power generation program that would ultimately replace nearly all of the electricity LUS gets from the Rodemacher unit.

Borgstadt outlined a handful of paths LUS’s power generation could take after moving the Rodemacher station away from coal, including potentially reviving LUS’s decommissioned Doc Bonin gas-powered plant on…