Natural gas power plant planned for Lawrence County
By Timothy Puko
Published: Thursday, Oct. 11, 2012, 12:38 p.m.
A natural gas-fired power plant proposed for Lawrence County is the sixth planned in Pennsylvania, but they may not all get built, even though coal power plants are closing, the Electric Power Generation Association's leader said on Thursday.
“I'd be surprised if all ... of these got built,” said Doug Biden, president of the Harrisburg industry group. “Maybe eventually, but not breaking ground within the next year.”
North Beaver planning officials gave preliminary approval this week for New Jersey-based LS Power to build a $750 million plant fired by natural gas. It could employ 500 workers during a two-year construction. The company chose a site just east of state Route 551, the American Cyanamid Co. explosives manufacturing plant vacant since the 1960s, county and company officials said.
The Lawrence County plan joins gas-fired plant proposals in Westmoreland and Washington counties, one announced on Wednesday for Bradford County and two others across the state trying to take advantage of the riches of ample gas from Appalachian shale drilling, Biden said.
Electric prices are low, making the market competitive, though there's room for some plants to replace nine coal-fired plants closing statewide, he added.
There also are state mandates for future power generation from renewable sources — including solar, wind and hydroelectric generation — further limiting the market for new gas plants, he said.
This will be LS Power's first venture in Western Pennsylvania and Eastern Ohio, project manager Casey Carroll said.
The plant, Hickory Run Energy Station, could open by 2016 or 2017 — pending state environmental permits — with a 900-megawatt capacity. It will likely have 25 permanent employees, he said.
“There is room for multiple (new plants) just to get back to where we were, not even accounting for the natural load growth (in electricity use) that's added every year,” Carroll said by phone from the company's development office in St. Louis. “Given the abundance of relatively low-cost, locally produced natural gas, we feel like this opportunity is one that's unique.”
Several township and county officials are enthusiastic about the project, they said on Thursday. The company has not asked for tax breaks but will pay about $500,000 annually in local school taxes, county officials and Carroll said.
The township plans a public hearing about the proposal at 3:45 p.m. Nov. 5 in the municipal building, Planning Commission Chairman Jim Gagliano Jr. said. Township supervisors could approve municipal permits that day at their meeting after the hearing, he added.
“It is a big deal,” Lawrence County Commissioner Steve Craig said. “In terms of the footprint in its community, you'll barely see it, you won't hear it. Its emissions will be relatively low because it's burning natural gas. ... So the impact isn't all that great. (But) the fiscal impacts will be really nice.”
Despite its benefits, the plant is not without a downside, said Joe Osborne, legal director of the Group Against Smog and Pollution. Even gas-fired plants emit nitrogen oxides, which help form ozone in the atmosphere, he said.
“It's less than coal, but there's definitely an environmental impact there,” he said.
The state Department of Environmental Protection received air quality application permits for the project last week. It's too early to say how long the review will take, department spokesman Kevin Sunday wrote in an email.
The department finished an administrative review of a Tenaska Inc. proposal for South Huntingdon, Westmoreland County, said DEP's regional spokesman in Pittsburgh, John Poister. It's still in the first stages of its technical review, which will last for several months, he added.
The Nebraska-based energy company plans to spend more than $500 million, maybe $1 billion on its project. It would involve 300 construction jobs and 30 permanent employees, a company official said in March.
Raymond J. Bologna has a DEP permit to build a complex in Robinson, Washington County, but it won't last much longer if he can't find funding, he said. Robinson Power Co. LLC would have two plants, one fueled by Bologna's 1,300-foot-tall pile of waste coal and another fueled by gas — but he has to start construction by year's end or his permit expires, he said.
He's working with an offshoot of Peoples Gas to try to find investors for his $150 million project, Bologna said. He has a deal with a gas supplier but needs more deals guaranteeing the sale of about half of the plant's potential 150-megawatt capacity. He has been looking unsuccessfully for more than a year.
Bologna does not see the other plants as competitors and said their progress shows signs that there's a market for gas-fueled power. But it does show investors are more willing to back bigger plants with better economies of scale, he said.
“It's been an uphill road (for us), yes it has,” he said. “We're giving it our best effort.”
Staff writer Joe Napsha contributed to this report. Timothy Puko is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7991 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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