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Work picks up on Tenaska's natural gas-fueled generating station in South Huntingdon

| Wednesday, Feb. 22, 2017, 11:00 p.m.
Dan Speicher | Tribune-Review
Construction crews and surveyors work on building the Tenaska Westmoreland Generating Station, near Smithton in South Huntingdon Township, on Wednesday, Feb.22, 2017. The natural-gas fired power plant is expected to open by December 2018 and will supply power for up to 925,000 homes.
Dan Speicher | Tribune-Review
Work that started in Auust continues at the Tenaska Westmoreland Generating Station, near Smithton in South Huntingdon Township, on Wednesday, Feb.22, 2017. The natural-gas fired power plant is expected to open by December 2018.
Dan Speicher | Tribune-Review
Construction workers prepare a concrete pad for support steel of a casing that will house steam generation pumps at the Tenaska Westmoreland Generating Station on Wednesday, Feb.22, 2017. The natural-gas fired power plant is expected to open by December 2018 and will supply power for up to 925,000 homes.
Dan Speicher | Tribune-Review
Internal water lines are laid for fire hydrants at the Tenaska Westmoreland Generating Station in South Huntingdon Township on Wednesday, Feb.22, 2017. The natural-gas fired power plant is expected to open by December 2018 and will supply power for up to 925,000 homes.

Despite some unfavorably wet weather in recent weeks, Tenaska Westmoreland Generating Station is on schedule to open as a 925-megawatt, natural gas-fueled plant late next year, officials said Wednesday.

The next milestone, laying the underground infrastructure on its 50-acre site near Smithton, will be completed by April or early May, said Vasu Pinapati, Tenaska's vice president of engineering. The Omaha-based company plans to hire additional construction workers once that phase is completed.

“We'll have equipment foundations completed by May or April, and then we'll start receiving all the heavy material between April and October,” Pinapati said.

In all, more than 600 local construction-type jobs are expected to be needed to build the $780 million project, Pinapati said. Most of those will start by the end of 2017 and work until spring 2018.

The company broke ground on the project in August after nine years of planning, public hearings and opposition from environmental groups and concerned neighbors.

According to Tenaska, seven local unions are represented among the 150 employees at the site. Another 50 to 60 supervisory positions are working.

Augie Didiano, president of Cement Masons Local 526, called the project a win.

“As far as union workers, or any workers really, it generates a lot of income for a lot of families that are trying to make it through day by day,” Didiano said.

His union is one of the smallest represented in the project, with about six workers.

“But once (construction) is in full swing, we'll have around 15 out there,” Didiano said, adding that masons are pouring cement for the foundation of the plant's gas turbines.

Starting in April and lasting a year, Tenaska will begin construction on above-ground structures — including a steam turbine, gas turbine building, administrative building, water-treatment building and cooling-water building.

Tenaska reached agreements with pipeline companies Dominion South and Texas Eastern Corp. to fuel the plant.

Texas Eastern has started laying a 20-inch, 3.5-mile transmission line. Construction for Dominion's 20-inch, 6-mile transmission line will start after the other pipeline is finished, Pinapati said.

Tenaska acquired 33 right-of-ways for the 9.5 miles of natural gas pipelines, Pinapati said.

Both pipelines are expected to be completed by fall.

A 24-inch water pipeline owned by the Municipal Authority of Westmoreland County is under construction.

The pipeline spans 13 miles and will serve as the plant's main waterline. Construction of a wastewater pipeline, which spans four miles, will begin in March, Pinapati said.

The company expects to be in full operation by December 2018. About 24 permanent workers will be needed to run the plant, Pinapati said.

Electricity generated at the station is expected to power an estimated 925,000 homes that are part of the PJM Interconnection grid, which coordinates power movement in Pennsylvania, Ohio and West Virginia and all or parts of 10 other states, plus Washington, D.C.

Casey McGill, Tenaska's site manager, on Wednesday stood atop the station's half-built steam turbine, took in a deep breath and smiled.

“This weather …” McGill said. “Attitudes have definitely turned (around) out here recently. Right now, we have dry weather; the conditions are perfect.”

Last week's rain put a damper on construction, he said, describing the site as a mud pit. And working in cold weather is always taxing on workers, he said.

“But March will probably turn on us and bring us back to reality,” McGill predicted.

Tenaska Westmoreland is owned by Tenaska Pennsylvania Partners LLC, which comprises affiliates of Tenaska and Diamond Generating Corp., a subsidiary of Tokyo-based Mitsubishi Corp. J-POWER USA, a subsidiary of Tokyo-based Electric Power Development Co., in January secured an equity stake in the Tenaska Westmoreland station.

The private company owns and operates seven natural gas power plants in five states, as well as several wind and solar plants.

Pinapati said the company considered launching some coal projects in the mid-2000s because natural gas prices were high.

“Currently, there is not a demand in the market for new coal-fueled power plants,” he said.

Moving forward, Tenaska is focusing on completing its Westmoreland project, but the company is open to other opportunities in Pennsylvania as natural gas markets continue to improve, Pinapati said.

Dillon Carr is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 724-850-1298 or dcarr@tribweb.com.

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