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Sunday, 06 January 2013 23:16

Holland opts for natural gas power

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Holland opts for natural gas power PHOTO: Carl Dunker
HOLLAND — A new natural gas power plant may help return Holland’s waterfront to its original condition.

The Holland City Council at its Dec. 5 meeting gave the Holland Board of Public Works (BPW) the go-ahead to build a new natural gas plant. City Councilman Wayne Klomparens was the lone dissenting vote. The passage of the proposal marks another milestone in Holland’s shift from coal-fired generation at the James De Young facility to more sustainable, environmentally conscious alternatives. The estimated project cost is $182 million.

“This will be, I believe, the largest civil works project that Holland has ever undertaken,” said Dan Nally, business services director at the BPW.

A Sustainable Return on Investment (SROI) report prepared by HDR Engineering Inc. found Holland’s best solution from both an environmental and cost standpoint was to construct an efficient, combined cycle natural gas power plant. The new plant will produce up to 114 megawatts (MW), a substantial increase over the current baseload capacity of 65 MW.

The plan, now, is to convert over the current units at the James De Young site from burning coal to natural gas once the new plant comes online, said Holland Mayor Kurt Dykstra.

“The idea here is that … these units are paid for, they still work and they’ve got another decade or two of life expectancy from a technical standpoint,” Dykstra said. “Is there a way we can capture some of the economic benefit by converting them from a baseload source to a peaking source?”

Once converted, Dykstra said, one possibility is that the city will sell the extra capacity from the James De Young plant to other utilities and municipalities.

The conversion of the James De Young plant from coal to natural gas would have two direct consequences on Lake Macatawa. First, the coal pile that currently occupies roughly half of the James De Young site will be gone. What the use of that land will be is unknown at this point.

“Whether it’s opened up for public access, we don’t know, but it begins the process of removing the power plant,” Dykstra said. “At that point, there will no longer be power generation on Lake Macatawa.”

The second consequence of converting the plant from coal to gas is that the city will lose its federal funding for harbor maintenance. Holland receives federal funding for dredging and maintenance through the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund because the James De Young units run on coal that must be delivered by freighter. With the plant converted over to natural gas delivered by pipe, the city of Holland will now be on the hook for harbor maintenance for shipping and recreational boating.

These two factors — the loss of both power generation on the waterfront and harbor maintenance funding — might spell the end for heavy industry on the shores of Lake Macatawa, said Dykstra.

“We’ve set a marker out there that use of the lakefront for power generation ends in 15 years, 20 years, or whatever number of years,” Dykstra said. “That then signals to some of the other industrial users that this power plant use will not be around here forever. ... Nobody’s going to force anybody to do anything, but I think that it’s much more likely that we’ll see use of those properties other than industrial if there isn’t a big coal power plant sitting a quarter-mile away.”

While some Holland residents were disappointed that the council decided to accept the BPW’s recommendation, Nally said the natural gas option was clearly the best out of all those considered.

“We have a responsibility ... to provide reliable power, cost-effective power, and the technology for renewables is not to the point where you can just rely on wind or just rely on solar,” Nally said. “Right now, your options are pretty much coal, natural gas, or nuclear. The EPA is pretty much shutting down coal, … (and) nuclear isn’t something that just a small city like Holland would ever approach. So realistically, our option is some variety of natural gas.”

Nally went on to say that natural gas would allow the city to support both the district heating and downtown snowmelt systems, important objectives for the BPW.

Mayor Dykstra likewise said that reliability was an issue with regards to renewables. Two previous attempts to tap into wind power on the lakeshore failed because of the variability in wind energy.

“We are interested in renewable energy,” Dykstra said. “We are interested in wind, but the thing with wind is that it’s not really, at least around here, baseload type of generation. ... We need to have the ability to have stable, reliable, constant power, and the variability of renewable sources makes them not work.”

Renewable energy, however, does form a portion of Holland’s power generation portfolio. In October, the BPW signed a contract with Germany-based E.ON SE to buy 15 MW from the Wildcat 1 wind farm in Madison County, Indiana.

The next step for Holland is to select a site for the new natural gas plant and begin the air permitting process. According to Nally, the city is considering a half-dozen potential sites and is looking to lock one down in the next one to two months.

A number of factors affect the site-selection process, including proximity to a major natural gas terminal. As far as supporting district heating and snowmelt, Dykstra said that there are few geographic limitations.

“You gain a lot of advantage by keeping the power plant closest to where the snowmelt is, but it is not absolutely essential,” Dykstra said. “It would be possible to locate, hypothetically, the power plant on the south end of Holland in the industrial area and then run piping. ... Bottom line is that anywhere within the Holland geographic footprint would be sufficiently close.”

Aside from site selection, the next steps for the BPW include hiring an owner’s engineer for project management, hiring Grand Rapids-based H T Engineering Inc. to design a gas pipeline, and developing a hedge plan for natural gas.

Looking ahead, Dykstra said he’s learned to think in terms of longer periods of change when dealing with energy issues. He compares the potential for moving the waterfront away from industrial use to downtown Holland revitalization that occurred over the span of decades.

“One thing I’ve learned in the past few years with this job is that you should almost talk in decades,” Dykstra said. “So, if you look out 20 years, it will be here before we know it.”

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