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Company considers building power plant at Letterkenny

March 07, 2000|By DON AINES

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. - Within the next 18 months the Letterkenny Industrial Development Authority may know whether the depot will be the site of a natural gas-fired power plant large enough to light up a community five or 10 times as large as nearby Chambersburg.

In February the authority's board of directors signed an option-to-buy agreement with Chambersburg Energy Park LLC for a 50-acre parcel on Letterkenny Army Depot land designated to become part of the Cumberland Valley Business Park.

The project, which has not been finalized, could cost between $100 million and $500 million, according to John Claussen, president of TRC Environmental, the Windsor, Conn., firm spearheading the effort.

If the site meets the company's requirements and receives all the necessary government permits, construction could begin as early as next year on a 250-megawatt "peaker" power plant, or a larger 250-to-500-megawatt "baseload" plant, according to TRC Energy Project Development Director Mark V. Magyar.

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Magyar said the plant could take another 18 months or longer to build.

"Energy deregulation is causing the country to basically restructure its entire power system," Claussen said. His company is involved in developing power plants that make money by generating electricity and selling it on the power grid.

Less efficient oil- and coal-fired plants are being replaced by gas-fired plants, Claussen said. He said the plant could produce less than 5 percent of the pollution of many existing coal and oil plants.

On a hot day in July when air conditioners are running on high, Chambersburg's 10,000 residential, commercial and industrial customers draw about 50 megawatts, according to Chambersburg Electric Department Superintendent Richard Hamsher.

A peaker plant would run only during peak hours. "They're basically a jet engine with some modifications," Magyar said.

A baseload plant would run almost continuously with natural gas used to power steam turbines, Claussen said.

Claussen said the initial assessment has shown that the Allegheny Power Co. transmission system linked to the depot is sufficient to absorb the power that would be generated, that natural gas supplies are sufficient and that there are no serious environmental obstacles.

TRC is laying the groundwork for the project, but Claussen said it depends on capital investment from companies that could include equipment suppliers such as General Electric, as well as natural gas and electric utility companies. Negotiations with potential investors can't begin until the initial assessments are complete, Magyar said.

As many as 200 people could be employed during the height of construction and about 20 once the plant is completed, he said.

"I have been to a similar facility and I was impressed with what I saw," said Letterkenny Township Supervisor Charles Myers. The parcel is in a part of the depot in his township, and would benefit its tax base.

Myers and other members of the authority's board of directors visited a plant in Sayreville, N.J., last fall. "It's a very clean operation," he said.

However, he added, "There's an awful lot of hurdles that have to be crossed."

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