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Safer natural plants replacing coal

MIDDLETOWN — While all power plants have health and safety “issues,” environmental problems related to natural gas plants like the one planned to be built in Middletown are less likely, according to a Miami University Middletown engineering professor.

Mazyar Amin, assistant professor of engineering technology at MUM, said gas plants, because they produce less nitrogen oxides and sulfur dioxide than coal-burning plants, reduce the risk of heart disease. Also, he said, the plants are more efficient than coal-burning plants and during “peak times,” they’re able to increase the amount of power faster than coal plants.

Amin called the plant “a great opportunity” for Middletown.

NTE Energy LLC of St. Augustine, Fla., recently announced it wants to build a $500 million power plant near Oxford State and Cincinnati Dayton roads. Company officials said the proposal is to build a plant running on natural gas on 50 acres that would generate more than 500 megawatts of electric power, which could supply approximately 400,000 homes.

The new power plant, called the Middletown Energy Center, will create 300 to 400 jobs, and once open in 2018, 25 to 30 permanent operator and maintenance technician jobs, and provide a cleaner source of energy to the region’s electricity supplies, said Tim Eves, senior vice president of development for NTE Energy.

The estimated cost to build the power plant — $500 million — would represent the largest business investment in Butler County in recent years, bigger than the approximately $400 million SunCoke Energy coke plant built in Middletown to supply AK Steel Holding Corp. SunCoke Energy Middletown opened at the end of 2011.

Megan Hummel, spokeswoman for the Southwest Ohio Air Quality Agency, said representatives are scheduled to meet with NTE Energy officials in the next two weeks to discuss the plant’s operation and permit requirements. She said the plant will need to obtain an air permit, which will regulate the amount of emissions and protect peoples’ health and the environment.

The plant also will need to obtain a storm water permit because it’s going to disturb more than one acre of soil, said Heather Lourer, regional spokeswoman for the Ohio EPA.

Natural gas seems to be replacing coal when it comes to making electricity.

Coal was the fuel for 67 percent of the power produced in the state last year, down from 85 percent in 2008, according to the Energy Information Administration.

The state isn’t building any coal-fired power plants, said Scott Miller, director of Ohio University’s Consortium for Energy, Economics and the Environment. He said that, plus the fact that older plants are shutting down, signals a “massive change” in the industry.

Since 2001, sulfur dioxide emitted by all Ohio power plants — coal and gas — has decreased by more than 70 percent. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency data also shows that nitrogen-oxide emissions dropped by 76 percent over the same time period.

If built, the Middletown Energy Center will be the third natural gas plant in Butler County. But there are few similarities between the Middletown plant and the other two natural gas facilities in Butler County: one operated by Duke Energy and the other American Municipal Power (AMP). Hummel said these plants can’t be compared to the proposed Middletown plant because they only operate during “peak loads.”

There also are proposals to build or expand natural gas plants in Ohio. The Ohio Power Siting Board recently approved a proposal from a company called Oregon Clean Energy to build a 799-megawatt gas-fired power plant in the city of Oregon in Lucas County. The board also approved Rolling Hills Generating’s proposal to expand an 860-megawatt gas power plant in Wilkesville in Vinton County to 1,414 megawatts.

The certification for the Rolling Hills Generating Station conversion is a “major milestone” for the project, opening the pathway to eventual construction, said Jeff James, project manager. He said “a significant number” of coal-fueled power plants are retiring in this region and new sources of clean baseload power with the ability to deliver electricity around the clock are needed to meet consumer demand.

At combined-cycle electric generating plants, natural gas-fueled combustion turbine-driven generators produce part of the plant’s electrical output. The excess heat from the turbines is used to generate steam, which drives steam turbine-generator sets to produce more electricity. The result is more electricity from the same amount of fuel and reduced emissions on a per-megawatt basis.

Conversion of the Rolling Hills Generating Station would employ more than 400 construction and trades workers at peak construction. Construction, targeted to begin this year, is projected to take 30 months. Rolling Hills would hire a firm to design and construct the plant, and that firm — responsible for hiring construction workers — will be encouraged to hire locally when possible, James said.

Today, Rolling Hills has eight operations employees. The converted facility, expected to be operational as early as 2016, would create approximately 25 additional well-paying, full-time jobs, he said. ___

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