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Healdsburg benefits from state’s cleanest, most efficient natural-gas power plant

Wednesday, August 15th, 2012 | Posted by

By CLARK MASON
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

It’s billed as the cleanest and most efficient natural gas-fueled power plant in California.

When it goes on line in mid-September, it will generate electricity to pump water along the California Aqueduct and run BART trains.

But it also will provide power to homes and businesses in Healdsburg and Ukiah, which both belong to the 16-member Northern California Power Agency that built the $451 million plant.

Healdsburg invested $7.2 million in this Lodi power plant. (COURTESY PHOTO)

“It’s a win-win for California,” Healdsburg Mayor Gary Plass said Monday. “It is a fossil fuel. It’s also a fossil fuel that’s plentiful in the United States and one we don’t have to import.”

Two years under construction, the 300-megawatt Lodi Energy Center is being hailed as the future of natural gas plants that produce electricity.

Its turbine, designed and built by German manufacturer Siemens A.G., is touted for its fast-start technology, allowing it to quickly bring the facility to full generating capacity.

Officials say that cuts greenhouse gases by about 30 percent compared to traditional natural gas fueled plants.

But the fast-starting turbine also allows operators to quickly ramp production up and down to match market demand, reducing overall costs to the consumer.

NCPA officials said the new plant, which is tied into the statewide grid operator that constantly manages power demands, will help play backup to renewable sources of electricity, such as wind and solar power, that can be affected by weather.

“As the use of renewables go up, the use of this plant may drop. It’s always there to back them up,” said Plass, who also is NCPA chairman.

The plant also employs a steam-powered turbine that operates in combination with the gas-powered one. Reclaimed water from Lodi is used in the steam-generating process and in the power plant cooling system.

In a dedication ceremony Friday at the plant, there were video messages delivered by Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., as well as Gov. Jerry Brown, who praised the new technology for its reliability and the jobs it created.

The largest portion of the electricity it generates — roughly one-third — will go to the state Department of Water Resources, which also invested in the plant, to pump water in the aqueduct to millions of residents.

Santa Clara’s Silicon Valley Power, the next largest participant, will use about 25 percent of the plant’s output. Among other uses, it will help power computer servers for high-technology companies there.

BART, a NCPA member, will get 6.6 percent of the plant’s output.

While Healdsburg and Ukiah will get a fraction of the plant’s output, it will provide a significant portion of each city’s electricity.

Healdsburg will get about five megawatts from the plant, or about a quarter of the city’s energy needs, said Electric Utility Director Terry Crowley.

He said ownership in the Lodi plant provides rate stability for Healdsburg because the city will be less reliant on the volatile spot market to supplement its power demands during peak days.

“We know what operating costs will be for many years out,” he said.

Healdsburg’s share of the plant’s cost is $7.2 million, Crowley said, while Ukiah’s is $8.2 million.

Healdsburg’s recently approved electricity rate schedule factors in some of the costs of the plant.

“It has had no adverse effect on rates, and we don’t anticipate it to,” Plass said.

You can reach Staff Writer Clark Mason at 521-5214 or clark.mason@pressdemocrat.com.

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