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Published: Tuesday, 11/24/2009

New power plant eyed by Edison parent firm

BY JOHN FUNK
(CLEVELAND) PLAIN DEALER

FirstEnergy Corp., which owns Toledo Edison, has taken the first step toward developing a huge natural gas and compressed-air power plant capable of generating as much electricity as three nuclear reactors.

The system could be combined with renewable energy technologies such as wind or solar to provide power even when the wind is not blowing or the sun is not shining.

The Akron utility said yesterday that its subsidiary, FirstEnergy Generation Corp., had bought a 92-acre site from CAES Development Co. LLC in the Akron suburb of Norton and had obtained all project permits and the long-term rights to use a 600-acre cavern, formerly operated as a limestone mine.

The company did not disclose the price, and a spokesman said a construction schedule had not been developed.

Here's how the system could work, at least in the beginning:

Using cheap power from the regional wholesale grid overnight when demand is low, the company would compress air, sending it into the cavern - which has a capacity of about 339 million cubic feet.

During the day, the pressurized air would be injected into natural-gas-fired turbines to drive electrical generators.

Gas turbines, close cousins of jet engines, are cleaner than coal-fired power plants.

But turbines normally must use electricity to first compress the air that is combined with gas burned in the turbine.

The company envisions buying renewable power instead of grid power to drive the system's compressors - making the project at least half renewable, or more, depending on how regulators view the project.

The company's pumped-hydro power plant in Seneca, Pa., is considered renewable by that state, even though it uses conventionally produced power overnight to fill a reservoir that during the day drives hydro-generators as it empties, spokesman Ellen Raines said.

Every Ohio utility must generate or buy 25 percent of the power it sells with advanced energy or renewable energy tech-nologies by 2025. The utility has 4.5 million customers in Ohio, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey.

In a prepared release, Anthony Alexander, FirstEnergy's chief executive officer, talked up the renewable aspects of the project.

"The compressed-air technology envisioned at this site would essentially operate like a large battery, storing energy at night for use during the day when it is needed," he said.

"The energy storage aspects of this project would provide a way to harness renewable energy to be used when customers need it, making this project a key component to our region's overall renewable energy strategy."

The company's tentative plan would develop the project in stages, building enough compression and gas turbine capacity initially to generate 268 megawatts - and then adding generation capacity totaling up to 2,700 megawatts - the output of about 20 gas turbines.

The prepared release included endorsements from Gov. Ted Strickland and from the Electric Power Research Institute, an independent research company.



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