New $500m natural gas plant proposed for Jessup

Though the project is still in very preliminary stages, the combined-cycle electricity plant proposed for Jessup is said to represent the most efficient technology for producing energy from natural gas. This is the latest in a number of power projects proposed for the region since natural gas began flowing up from the Marcellus Shale formation. An official from Invenergy LLC went before Jessup Borough Council recently to give an overview of the project. The company was requesting a change in the borough's noise ordinance.

The power plant, which would cost $500 million to build, would be on the east side of the Casey Highway near the end of Sunnyside Road. In a combined-cycle power plant, electricity is generated from fuel two times. First, the natural gas is burned, and that combustion turns a turbine to generate electricity. The hot exhaust from that step is captured to boil water, the steam of which is used to turn another turbine.

Gas-powered electricity plants are less expensive to build, the technology has gotten more efficient, and they have fewer environmental hurdles than coal or nuclear plants, according to Jacob G. Smeltz, executive director of the Electric Power Generation Association, a Pennsylvania trade group. Also, natural gas prices are low - for the near future, he said. "We are seeing more of these sorts of plants proposed because of the economics of natural gas and the strides in technology."

Combined-cycle plants require water, but much of the water is re-used, getting boiled and condensed over and over. In the process, plants can use either municipal water or fresh water. Improved pollution control and emission controls, along with the rise of natural gas as fuel in the generation fleet, has driven down emissions related to power generation in the state. Since 2000, sulfur dioxide emission fell 75 percent and nitrogen oxide emissions are down 40 percent, Smeltz said.

The impact of a natural gas generation on air quality is modest, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Burning natural gas produces nitrogen oxide and carbon dioxide, but in lower quantities than burning coal or oil. Emission of sulfur dioxide and mercury compounds from burning natural gas are negligible, the agency said. Jessup resident Matthew Yakubik, who lives somewhat close to the proposed site, has raised concerns about the impact on the Nature Conservancy preserve on the top of Moosic Mountain and nearby state game lands.

Based in Chicago, Invenergy is a private company with 58 power projects from Europe to Japan. Of its 49 projects generating 4,244 MWs, only six of the facilities are natural gas. The power is expected to provide peak and intermediate power. Base-load power facilities, typically nuclear and coal, operate around-the-clock. In times of higher demand, intermediate generators are fired up. Peaking power plants operate during times of high demand, such as the hottest days of summer when air conditioners are likely to be on.