Gas-fired power plants sprouting in Ohio to replace old coal-burners

Source: The Plain Dealer

CLEVELAND, Ohio — At least six gas-fired power plants are being built or on the drawing boards in Ohio.

All are being built by independent power companies. They hope to capitalize on Ohio’s plentiful and cheap shale gas, on the decision by companies like FirstEnergy to close old coal-burning power plants rather than upgrade them or replace them with natural gas plants, and on proposed federal rules requiring power companies to cut their carbon dioxide emissions.

The latest gas project to make the news is in shale gas-rich Carroll County, where a Swiss power plant builder has begun grading parts of a 77-acre parcel about 2 miles outside of the county seat Carrollton. Carroll County Energy’s 750-megawatt gas-fired power plant will have the capacity to generate enough electricity to power about 750,000 homes, on average.

Unlike conventional coal, the new plants combine gas turbines and steam boilers, making them far more efficient than coal-fired steam boilers. Also, these “combined cycle” gas-fired generators can ramp up to full power in minutes rather than hours or days that coal burners require.

On the downside, gas — unlike coal — cannot be stored at these power plants, and is delivered only by pipelines, leaving the power plants vulnerable to terrorists or natural calamities.

Advanced Power, the privately owned Swiss company building Carroll County Energy, partnered with a large retirement fund, a Japanese utility and two investment groups connected to insurance companies to raise a little more than half of the $890 million construction costs. It secured a financing package from 10 large banks for the rest.

Ohio regulators recently told state lawmakers that they expect 4,300 megawatts of electricity to flow from new gas-fired power plants by 2019, most of it from plants owned by independent power companies.

At the same time, Ohio’s old utilities are expected to close their coal plants. FirstEnergy, for example, is expected to close several old coal plants next week, including remaining boilers in Eastlake and at East 72nd Street off the East Shoreway in Cleveland.

This change-over is occurring as Ohio lawmakers are trying to decide whether to allow the state’s energy efficiency standards to spring back to life automatically in 2017 as they are set to do under a temporary two-year freeze put in place last spring with the passage of a bill for which FirstEnergy heavily lobbied.

Energy efficiency programs can cut demand and that can reduce the pressure on utilities to scrap older coal-fired power plants, a study released last month by grid manager PJM Interconnection concluded.

Advanced Power has chosen the internationally ranked heavy construction company Bechtel to build the Carrollton plant. About 700 temporary jobs will be created. The company expects to be generating and selling electricity by December 2017.

The power will be sold into the regional high-voltage grid through a nearby 345,000-volt American Electric Power line.

The plant will take gas from Kinder Morgan’s transcontinental Tennessee Gas Pipeline that runs through Ohio’s Utica shale gas fields and northeast in the Marcellus shale gas fields in Pennsylvania. Some of Ohio’s shale producers already use the line now to ship gas south to Louisiana.

Here are other gas-fired power plants already being built or planned.

  • Developers began building the Oregon Clean Energy gas-fired power plant near Toledo in December at a cost of about $850 million. The 799-megawatt gas fired plant will fill the gap left by FirstEnergy’s decision to close some old coal-fired boilers nearby rather than retrofit or replace them to meet modern emission standards.
  • Florida-based NTE Energy, another independent power company, is poised to begin construction of a 525-megawatt gas-fired power plant in Middletown, Ohio, in Butler County. That plant is projected to be on-line in early-to-mid 2018.
  • The Rolling Hills power plant has been operating in Vinton County, Ohio, since 2003, and is now in the final stages of permitting to expand, add new technology, and boost its output from 850 megawatts to 1,414,  enough power for more than a million households.
  • Clean Energy Future-Lordstown, LLC, is proposing to build an 800-megawatt gas-fired plant in Trumbull County. The project, which will use gas from nearby pipelines and will connect to power lines owned by a FirstEnergy subsidiary, is under review at the Ohio Power Siting Board.
  • NRG Energy, is converting its 725-megawatt coal-fired Avon Lake power plant to gas and is awaiting approval to build a 20-mile gas line from Dominion East Ohio and Columbia Gas of Ohio lines to its plant on Lake Erie. There has been opposition to the placement of the new gas line and a public hearing was scheduled this week.