Air Pollution Control Equipment Services, Coal

Scrubber training: Ameren’s approach in a challenging environment

By Craig D. Dalziel and Brian M. Smith, General Physics Corp.

Over the last 15-20 years, power generation companies have been very conscious of how their plant emissions affect the environment and local communities. Since the Clean Air Act Amendments of 1990, and several other regulatory initiatives like the Clean Air Interstate Rule, Clean Air Mercury Rule, and Clear Skies Initiative, many generating facilities have already greatly reduced their emissions and impact on the environment.

These regulations are mandating more stringent requirements for the reduction of nitrogen oxide (NOX), sulfur dioxide (SO2), mercury, and other byproducts of electric generation. They are also driving corporate executives, management, and engineering staff of our nation’s coal fired power plants to look into new and more technologically advanced means of reducing these emissions. These technologies include systems and equipment such as Wet Scrubbers, Dry Scrubbers, Low NOX burners, Selective Catalytic Reduction (SCR), Selective Non-Catalytic Reduction (SNCR), Rich Reagent Injection, Electrostatic Precipitators, Digital Combustion Control Management Systems and others.

New technologies are important in the generation of cleaner power. However, these new technologies are costly and time consuming with regard to design, construction, start-up, operation, and maintenance. As such, one of the key issues that power generating facilities now face is ensuring that they have a skilled and trained workforce to operate and maintain this new equipment. With an ever increasing focus on the environmental impact of coal-fired power generation coupled with a focus on unit efficiency and availability, a power plant’s operations and maintenance staff must be fully prepared to ensure that proper operating and maintenance practices are followed. Improper practices can lead to premature equipment failure, operational inefficiencies, reduced unit availability, emission excesses, and unsafe working conditions.

Training and qualifying the power plant O&M workforce are of extreme importance to Ameren. As a corporation, Ameren is committed to providing its customers with clean, reliable energy, while preserving, protecting, and improving the environment. Because of their commitment to the environment and their obligation to meet these new regulations, Ameren will spend between $3.5 billion and $4.5 billion across its fleet of coal fired power plants through 2016. This includes the installation of new controls and equipment such as wet and dry scrubbers, SCR units, SNCR units, low NOX burners and many other technologies, including state-of-the-art trials to remove mercury by injecting activated carbon into the flue gas.

Ameren has taken a hard look at the environment and their role in preserving it. Dan Perschbacher, Ameren’s Corporate Training Manager, stated that, “This is one of the largest training efforts in Ameren’s history related to the installation of environmental controls. Inefficient and unreliable operation of this equipment will not only have a cost to this company, but will also have a cost to the environment we all live in. Ameren’s goal is to have all operators, maintenance staff, and chemists fully trained and qualified to operate and maintain all of our new environmental equipment upon startup. This progressive philosophy will have a positive impact on operational efficiency, availability, and ultimately the environment.”

The training needs of an organization undergoing new equipment installation can be addressed in many ways. Although becoming less common, some companies choose to provide minimal training for their employees when new equipment is installed. Joe Nasal, Senior VP of General Physics Energy Services noted, “The ROI of a properly developed and implemented training program is easily realized when costly outages, due to operation or maintenance errors, are avoided. You can invest proactively or you can pay later correctively; in most instances, the corrective investment is significantly more costly.”

With many options and effective methods to provide training for new equipment installations, the question is how to implement a training program that allows for safe and reliable operation without breaking the bank? Ameren’s solution to this challenge combines their resources along with the resources of contractors and vendors involved in the new equipment installation. These combined resources are coordinated by a training consultant who brings the expertise and experience to successfully implement their approach.

Ameren selected General Physics Corporation (GP) to develop a plan and coordinate their training efforts. Working closely with Ameren’s training department, GP coordinates vendor training, develops and delivers equipment training, and generates qualification as well as procedural documents. This relationship allows Ameren to capture the embedded-cost expertise of their equipment vendors through walk-down familiarization training, while also receiving classroom training and documentation development from a company that specializes in industry-best-practices training solutions. Ameren’s involvement in this process ensures that employee buy-in is achieved, and further ensures that all training and document development is consistent with their distinct needs and goals.

Ameren’s philosophy of a blended learning approach to training and workforce qualification is key to the success of this program. This approach combines a number of learning methods, including the use of generic web-based training (WBT) content, site-specific system and equipment training, instructor-led classroom training, and on-the-job training. All training methods are coordinated through the design and development of Integrated Learning Curriculums (ILs) for trainees. The ILs serve as a roadmap to guide trainees through the training and qualification process by outlining the steps required to complete their training on the newly installed equipment and systems. Ameren Training Supervisors can readily monitor each trainee’s progress through GP’s learning management system (LMS) called GPiLearn. The LMS continually tracks and reports on each trainee’s progress, thereby allowing the management team to gauge the training program’s progress and effectiveness.

Ameren follows a Systematic-Approach-to-Training (SAT) process which ensures that training is provided for each task required in an individual’s job. This time-proven approach also ensures management that each trainee is armed with the knowledge and skills required to perform his or her job safely, efficiently, and reliably prior to startup. This results in consistent operating practices, increased availability, reduced maintenance costs, reduced emissions, and increased overall worker safety. In addition, it also provides the basis for a solid training and qualification program that will serve future Ameren employees long after the initial installation and commissioning activities are complete.

The power generation industry continues to evolve; as it does, a greater emphasis is being placed on the environment. This evolution is spawning cutting edge technology that demands a rigorous approach to training and qualification of the power plant’s workforce. The implementation of an SAT using a blended learning process provides assurance that the workforce will be ready and able to meet the challenges associated with operating a more sophisticated and technologically advanced power plant.