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Energy Agency Seeks
Plant for Coal-Based Gas

by Bill Virgin, Seattle Post-Intelligencer Reporter
Seattle Post-Intelligencer - August 3, 2005

Bill Virgin Energy Northwest, which already generates electricity using nuclear, wind, hydro- and solar power, wants to build a plant that uses a new technology in which gas derived from coal or petroleum coke (a byproduct of oil refining) is burned to produce power.

Richland-based Energy Northwest, owned by 19 public-power utilities around the state, also wants to put the proposed plant somewhere in Western Washington, so as to be close to the transmission grid and the concentration of energy demand. The agency said it has picked two possible sites and hopes to complete negotiations on one in the next two months.

Energy Northwest spokesman Brad Peck said the agency is also talking to utilities about buying the 600 megawatts the plant would generate; it says it won't begin construction until it has firm commitments for all the power.

The power agency also has to receive a permit from the state Energy Facility Site Evaluation Council.

The proposed plant reflects growing interest by the region's utilities to line up new generating resources as growth in consumption continues and a current surplus declines. Earlier this week, Puget Sound Energy said it hopes to put out requests for proposals later this year for 1,500 megawatts of new generating capacity as well as expanded energy conservation and efficiency measures.

Energy Northwest is the renamed Washington Public Power Supply System, which achieved national infamy in the 1980s with a massively expensive plan to build five nuclear power plants (only one, at Hanford near the Tri-Cities, was ever completed).

The agency's board recently approved a resolution to build a plant using what's known as integrated gasification combined cycle technology.

Although coal supplies are abundant in the United States, the fuel is in disfavor because of the environmental impact of burning it in conventional power plants. But Energy Northwest says this technology is significantly different, because coal itself is not burned.

Instead, coal or petroleum coke is put through a unit to produce a gas that can then be burned in a combustion turbine to produce electricity.

Steam produced as a byproduct of the process also can be run through a turbine to produce electricity.

The combustion turbine also will work with natural gas, but Peck said the attraction of the technology is that "you're never captive to any one source" of energy, so operators can switch depending on the price of the fuels.

That's of particular concern these days with the rise in natural gas prices.

Energy Northwest says the technology is economically competitive with other sources and has added environmental benefits in that carbon dioxide can be separated for eventual disposal without releasing it to the atmosphere.

But the technology and Energy Northwest's proposal are likely to meet at least skepticism from groups such as NW Energy Coalition, an environmental and conservation group.

Coalition spokesman Marc Krasnowsky said the technology might be appropriate for replacing "dirty coal" plants in the Midwest and Northeast, but "we really don't see any need for it in the Northwest," given the availability of renewable resources such as wind and the potential for reduced demand through energy efficiency and conservation measures.

Bill Virgin, Seattle Post-Intelligencer Reporter
Energy Agency Seeks Plant for Coal-Based Gas
Seattle Post-Intelligencer, August 3, 2005

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