Proposed power generation projects in area have natural gas in common

April 4, 2017
Construction is underway on a Tenaska gas-fired power plant near Smithton, Westmoreland County. It is scheduled to go online in early 2018 and is one of a number of gas-fired plants being proposed for Southwestern Pennsylvania. - Courtesy of Tenaska

When a New Jersey-based company discusses its plan tonight for developing a natural gas power plant in Monongahela Township, Greene County, its proposal will join a long list of gas-fired generating projects either under construction or proposed across Pennsylvania and beyond.

APV, of Bernardsville, N.J., will hold an informational meeting from 5 to 8 p.m. at the Carmichaels-Cumberland fire hall.

The company, which is applying to the state Department of Environmental Protection for an air quality permit, said last month it is considering building the plant on the site of the former Hatfield’s Ferry coal-fired plant, which is still owned by FirstEnergy.

The local project is among numerous plans for gas-fired power generation plants, some of which also share the idea that they’ll be constructed on sites that were once related to coal mining or coal-fired generation:

• APV’s proposal follows one put forward a year ago by Huntington Bay, N.Y.-based Hill Top Energy Center, which has proposed building a 536-megawatt gas-fired plant at the former Nemacolin Mine in Cumberland Township. If the plan comes to fruition, the company would build the plant on property off Thomas Road that several years ago was the proposed site of a power plant fired by coal refuse.

The Greene County proposals are among many that are being pitched or already under construction across Pennsylvania and beyond with the goal of using cheap, abundant natural gas from the Marcellus Shale.

In Westmoreland County’s South Huntington Township near Smithton, Tenaska began construction in August of a 925-megawatt gas-fired generating plant capable of providing power to 925,000 homes.

It has an online date of late 2018. A slightly smaller gas-fired plant is being proposed in Brooke County, W.Va.

Amber Evans, a community outreach representative for Energy Solutions Consortium of Buffalo, N.Y., said Monday ESC plans to construct an 830-MW plant in a former stripmined area near the boundary of the Cross Creek Wildlife Management Area in Brooke County, W.Va.

The company is awaiting approval from PJM Interconnection, a regional organization that coordinates the movement of wholesale electricity in 13 states and the District of Columbia.

Evans said it plans to begin the bidding process with PJM in May 2018, with a groundbreaking planned for September of that year. If all goes as planned, the plant would go into operation in June 2021, she said.

The company estimates the plant, which will be operated by its ESC Brooke County Power subsidiary, would employ 1,164 in direct, indirect or induced jobs.

The projects represent a small slice of what one company sees as a major investment in gas-fired power in the Northeast, which ties the movement to the availability of abundant shale gas.

In mid-March, Sugar Land, Texas-based Industrial Info Resources, a provider of global market intelligence in the industrial process, heavy manufacturing and energy markets, said it is tracking $11.52 billion in power industry projects set to start this year in the Northeast, including Pennsylvania, New York, New Jersey and Delaware.

“Many of the capital projects in the region are set to take advantage of the abundant natural gas coming from the Marcellus Shale in Pennsylvania,” the company said.

A recent report from Valley Forge-based PJM projected that the regional grid can accommodate huge shifts toward natural gas-fired power plants and also can incorporate many more sources of renewable energy such as wind and solar with no sacrifice to grid reliability.

PJM’s only reservation is that the system’s base load for power could become too reliant on one fuel source. But it expressed confidence that the regional grid could support as much as 86 percent natural gas.

Its study also suggests that the grid could remain reliable with “unprecedented levels of wind and solar resources,” if they are mixed with other types of power generation, like natural gas or nuclear to help to balance the renewables’ reliability weaknesses.

While it remains to be seen how many of the gas-fired projects will move from the drawing board to the construction phase, there’s no denying that natural gas is rapidly displacing coal as fuel of choice for many power projects.

The Department of Energy noted in January that as the nation’s power companies switch fuels, “the amount of coal in the national energy generation mix (both in the fuels and electricity generation categories) has declined by 53 percent since 2006.” It said that over the same period, electricity generation from natural gas increased 33 percent.

Michael Bradwell has been business editor for the Observer-Reporter since 1995, and was named editor of The Energy Report in 2012. He joined the newspaper in 1990 as a general assignment reporter in the Greene County bureau and has also worked as a copy editor. A 1974 graduate of Pennsylvania State University with a degree in English, he began his career at the Bedford (Pa.) Gazette. Prior to joining the O-R, he served as public relations director for Old Bedford Village, account executive at two Pittsburgh public relations agencies and copywriter for the country’s largest wholesaler of mutual funds.

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