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Bechtel’s Impact Report

Oak Creek Power Plant Expansion

Wisconsin, USA
Construction at Oak Creek Power Plant

One of the world’s cleanest and most efficient coal-fired power systems

Our expansion of the Oak Creek Power Plant (at one time known as Elm Road Generating Station) was the largest private construction job in Wisconsin history.

Built by Bechtel for Wisconsin Energy, the plant, with two 615-megawatt coal-fired steam-turbine generating units and related civil works, sits next to an earlier-built Oak Creek power plant on the western shore of Lake Michigan.

The Oak Creek expansion features an innovative cooling system and is among the most efficient coal-fired power systems in the world.

Project reaches new heights

Oak Creek’s 'boiler' buildings are 270 feet (82 meters) tall. A common chimney serving both units rises even higher, to 550 feet (168 meters).

  • Numbers like that mean a lot of material to manage.
  • During the project, crews:
  • Placed nearly 3 million cubic feet (84,000 cubic meters) of concrete
  • Erected 31,000 tons of structural steel
  • Installed 230,000 feet (more than 70,000 meters) of large-bore pipe,
  • Laid nearly 7 million feet (2.1 million meters) of electrical cable 

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Cleaner energy for the Great Lakes region

The two-unit, 1,230-megawatt coal-fired power plant project includes nearly 12 miles (19 kilometers) of railroad, a deep-rock intake tunnel under Lake Michigan, and air and water pollution control systems. With operations marked by high efficiency and low emissions, Oak Creek provides large amounts of cleaner energy for the Great Lakes area.

The expansion plant’s high efficiency stems from the use of supercritical steam-generating technology, which enables the steam generators to operate above the pressure at which there would be a boiling transition between water and steam in a conventional boiler. Instead, as the water absorbs heat at this high pressure, it gradually decreases density forming steam that drives a turbine.

The improved plant efficiency requires less fuel to achieve the electrical output, lowering flue-gas emissions to the air accordingly.  Together the higher efficiency and state-of-the-art flue-gas cleaning technology makes this power plant among the cleanest in the country in terms of air emissions.

Digging for new efficiencies

Rather than recirculating water from condensers to a cooling tower and back, which sends heat into the atmosphere, Oak Creek uses a more efficient 'once-through' cooling technology, eliminating cooling towers.

A tunnel 9,200 feet (2,800 meters) long and 28 feet (8.5 meters) in diameter carries water from beyond the littoral zone of Lake Michigan into the plant’s condensers and then back to the lake, taking with it the heat from the turbine exhaust. The groundbreaking intake-and-discharge system is cleaner, more efficient, and less expensive than the cooling towers.

Bechtel recognized for safety and performance

The Specialized Carriers and Rigging Association honored Bechtel with its 2009 Rigging Job of the Year award in the under $150,000 category.

Bechtel Equipment Operations earned the award for safely performing critical lifts to install four 46-foot- (14-meter-) tall water-feed circulation pumps weighing 84,700 pounds (more than 38,400 kilograms) apiece.

Despite unfavorable site conditions and the second-worst winter in Wisconsin history, the Bechtel team developed innovative solutions to overcome complex engineering and to safely and economically install the pumps during a four-month period in 2009.

Oak Creek renovation

The Oak Creek expansion at Elm Road is part of Wisconsin Energy's Power the Future Plan. The plan's overall objective is to reduce emissions system-wide by more than 65 percent while increasing electricity generation by 50 percent. 

​Highly efficient plants such as Oak Creek, which uses supercritical boilers, reduce emissions of COcommensurate with heat rate improvement. The Oak Creek expansion reduced NOx emissions by more than 60 percent, SO2 emissions by approximately 97 percent, and particulate emissions by more than 99.9 percent. Acid mist and other regulated and air emissions were also greatly reduced.