The Energy Facility Siting Council has approved the final site certificate for a gas-fired power plant in Hermiston designed to balance the grid during times of low wind generation.
Oregon’s Energy Facility Siting Council has approved a natural gas-fired power plant in Hermiston designed to balance fickle wind power on the electrical grid.
The Perennial Wind Chaser Station received its site certificate from the council Friday in Boardman, though developers remain unsure when exactly they will be able to start construction.
Perennial Power Holdings, of New York, first proposed the project more than three years ago. The company is no stranger to Umatilla County, and has co-owned the Hermiston Generating Plant on Westland Road since 2002. The 400-megawatt Perennial Wind Chaser would be located just south of the existing Hermiston plant on 20 acres of unused farmland, where major water and gas infrastructure is already in place.
David Daley, senior vice president of operations and development for Perennial Power, said the site certificate marks a major permitting milestone for the project, but there’s still work left to do. The Wind Chaser also needs an air quality permit from the Department of Environmental Quality, regulating the emissions of greenhouse gases and other pollutants.
A public hearing with DEQ will be held at 6 p.m. Monday, Sept. 28 at the Hermiston Agricultural Research and Extension Center.
“All thermal power plants have some new standards they have to meet,” Daley said. “It’s certainly going to make things more difficult.”
However, Daley said he feels they have done a good job of developing their application and anticipating changes to the federal Clean Air Act.
Though the Wind Chaser itself is a natural gas plant, its aim is to support the influx of renewable – albeit unpredictable – sources of energy, such as wind and solar on the power grid.
State regulators want to see utilities increase their renewable generation portfolios, but the fact is the wind doesn’t always blow, and the sun doesn’t always shine, which means the amount of electricity available from those sources can change quickly.
For example, Daley said wind farms along the Columbia River can rise and fall by 4,000 megawatts in a matter of hours, which is enough power for 5-6 million homes.
When that happens, Daley said there needs to be a fast-acting and dependable source of electricity to backfill demand. That’s what the Wind Chaser Station is designed to do.
“There’s things on the grid that can’t rely on weather forecasters,” Daley said. “It really needs plants that can respond as fast as the wind starts and stops blowing.”
The Wind Chaser’s design features four generating units that Daley described as the most efficient in the world. Based on jet aircraft models, they can ramp up to full capacity in less than 10 minutes as opposed to 1-2 hours, and start and stop all day without damaging the engine.
The plant will connect to the Bonneville Power Administration’s McNary substation near Umatilla using existing transmission lines. Perennial Power has discussed selling the Wind Chaser’s output to BPA, Daley said, though there is no deal yet with any potential customers.
Until there is an agreement to sell the power, Daley said the company will likely hold back on starting construction, which is expected to cost about $400 million. But with permits in hand and the energy market trending away from coal and toward renewables, he expects those negotiations to start heating up soon.
“It’s a huge quantum shift from the old-style utility model,” he said.
Tamra Mabbott, Umatilla County planning director, said the county supports the project and is excited to see it move forward. She said the facility ought to be roughly the same value as the existing Hermiston Generating Plan, adding approximately $224-$290 million to the local tax rolls.
Using existing infrastructure makes the project comparatively low impact, Mabbott added, and Perennial Power has been very responsive to local concerns.
“Clearly, the economic benefit is tremendous,” Mabbott said.
If everything goes smoothly, Daley said they could have their DEQ permit before the end of the year. He expects to have some meaningful conversations with utilities in 2016, and possibly break ground by 2017.
“The driver is people want renewables to take the lead in providing power,” he said. “This is an enabling thing that results in a stable grid.”
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