Public Utility Districts Paving Way
by Barbara LaBoe
Energy Northwest is again moving forward with plans for a $400 million natural gas energy plant at the Port of Kalama on the site of the group's failed bid for a coal/petcoke gasification power plant.
The Richland-based public power group now wants to build the Kalama Energy Center, a 346-megawatt power plant powered by natural gas. The group also has a partner the project, Canada's Pristine Power, which may take the project over when it's time to begin construction. Either way, officials hope to begin construction next summer and have the plant up and running by summer of 2013, project manager Pat King told Cowlitz County commissioners Tuesday.
For now, officials are submitting permits, getting plans in order and looking for customers for the power, King said. The group is made up of 23 public utility districts, including the Cowlitz PUD, and must offer the power to PUDs first, he said.
New technology allows for operators to start up turbines quickly and also does away with the need to keep plants running for long periods of time, King said. That means the power can be a good backup to wind energy, which fluctuates based on wind. King said this means the plan could enhance wind and other energy sources.
Pristine Power is helping "push this along through development," King told the commissioners.
When the permitting is complete, Pristine has the option to buy the project and construct it or leave it with Energy Northwest, he said.
If it gets built, the Energy Northwest project would be the fourth gas-fired power plant in the Lower Columbia Region, which is becoming a large new energy producing center: Gas plants have come line at the Longview Mint Farm Instrial Park and at Port Westward in recent years, and Portland General Electric is planning another gas plant at Port Westward.
Energy Northwest tried to build a coal/petcoke gasification plant called the Pacific Mountain Energy Center. The project ran afoul of a 2007 state law intended to reduce emissions that many scientists cay contribute to global climate change. The group withdrew its application in 2009.
At that time officials said they'd like to explore a natural gas power plant and retained development rights to 20 of the original 90 acres they'd secured at the Port of Kalama for their initial plant. Energy Northwest is paying the port $10,000 every six months to keep the 20-acre parcel in reserve, and it's least payment would rise to $200,000 a year if it builds the project, according to the port.
While the coal/petcoke project didn't pan out, King said he's confident about this power plant.
"A lot of the heavy lifting has already been done," he told commissioners.
Tuesday, Energy Northwest officials also signed agreements with Cowlitz County to pay for a consultant to do the technical review of the groups environmental permit. The work is too technical and complex for regular county staff, so the company agreed to pay the costs of hiring a contractor to complete the overview. The contract is for up to $32,000.
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