Dallas Center residents who want a firsthand account of how a proposed $200 million power plant would affect their community will have that opportunity Thursday.
That’s when Kent Holst, who oversees an Iowa municipal utilities energy plant project, and his associates will give a presentation on the project to store wind energy in the form of compressed air in an underground rock formation. The officials will take questions from the public following their presentation at 7 p.m. Thursday at Dallas Center Memorial Hall, 1502 Walnut St.
Dallas Center Mayor Mitch Hambleton said that while the project is exciting, he is looking forward to hearing the answers to residents’ questions, such as how having a power plant of that size might affect the community, positively or negatively.
“I think people around here are excited about the project, but I think some people are a little apprehensive as well,” he said. “Some people wonder about how much water usage the plant will need, that kind of thing.”
Holst is the development director for the Iowa Stored Energy Plant Agency, an agency made up of 135 city-owned electrical utilities in Iowa, South Dakota, North Dakota and Minnesota. Officials from those utilities have endorsed the project as a way to provide additional electrical power using less fossil fuel.
Dallas Center has been selected as a site because of the geological formation that was found there, Holst said. The proposal calls for the purchase of about 40 acres and the leasing of land covering about 1,000 acres that cover the potential storage area, Holst said.
The process uses wind energy to force air into the underground shale formation as far as 3,000 feet below ground. The compression is usually done through the night when electrical use is not at its peak. Then, during the day, the compressed air is brought back up and used to run turbines that create electricity.
The majority of power used to compress the air would come through the existing power grid from wind generators in the northern areas of Iowa, Holst said.
As the air moves through the rock, water that is currently in the rock is displaced to the surrounding area. Holst said the water forced from the rock is not water that is used by the area population and is not drinkable.
“This would not affect other aquifers in the area,” he said.
Agency officials still have to do test drilling and more research into the rock formation and the physical nature of the area before a final location decision is made, Holst said.
“But we have no indication so far that this site wouldn’t work,” he said. “Still, there are a lot more things we need to do. I wouldn’t expect to break ground on a building until 2011 or 2012. A project like this would take two years to construct.”
While he estimates as many as 200 workers will be needed during a construction phase of the plant, he believes that between 40 and 50 employees then would be needed to operate the plant.
Dallas Center resident Kelly Broderick said he is looking forward to the project.
“I think it is very exciting for the community,” he said.
He called the project environmentally friendly, and noted that hot water created by the plant has potential to be used in other businesses.
“I think we are fortunate to have this geologic formation, and lucky they found it,” Broderick said.
The project is being billed as an innovative renewable energy storage solution. If built, the plant would be only the third in the world to use the compressed air technology, even though the technology has been around for at least 25 years. Currently, there is a plant in Huntorf, Germany, and one in McIntosh, Ala.
The plant project is being buoyed by $3.5 million in research grants, along with money invested by the member utilities. About $1 million has been invested so far by the 65 utility members in Iowa.
Dallas Center is not a member of the utility group because the city does not own an electrical utility, Hambleton said.
However, agency officials have been talking with Hambleton about possible benefits of belonging to the group.
“It is just too early in the process to know whether there would be any financial benefits for the city,” the mayor said.
14 May 2007
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