Construction starts on gas-fired power plant in Boardman

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Construction of Portland General Electric’s new natural gas-fired power plant in Boardman is underway.

PGE hosted Morrow County officials Thursday for an update and brief tour of the project site, which is located next to the existing coal plant that is slated to close or convert to a different fuel source by 2020. Crews are currently working on the foundation and installing transmission towers that will ultimately connect the facility onto the power grid.

When finished, the Carty Generating station will produce up to 440 megawatts, enough to serve roughly 300,000 residential customers. It is expected to come online by July 2016.

The natural gas plant was identified as part of PGE’s 2009 integrated resource plan to meet increased energy demand over the next 20 years. It is not intended to replace the Boardman Coal Plant, said spokesman Steve Corson.

In addition, PGE is working to bring another 220-megawatt natural gas plant online in Clatskanie, along with the 267-megawatt Tucannon River wind farm in southeast Washington.

As the state’s largest utility, PGE serves 830,000 customers west of the Cascades. But Corson said it is important to continue meeting with local communities in Eastern Oregon where the power is generated.

“The community really does contribute to being able to build our facilities out here, which in turn supports the property tax base, employment and other collateral economic benefits,” Corson said.

Carty will be the second PGE natural gas plant in Boardman. Coyote Springs Generating Station began operating in 1995.

At an investment of $450 million, the Carty plant will create as many as 500 construction jobs over the next two years and 20 full-time positions once operating.

Project Director Jaisen Mody said Gas Transmission Northwest will design and build a 24-mile, 20-inch pipeline supplying natural gas to the station. Transmission lines will connect from PGE’s own Grassland switching station onto the Slatt Substation, operated by Bonneville Power Administration, about 18 miles west near Arlington.

The project’s site certificate allows up to 900 megawatts, Mody said, meaning there is room for another 450-megawatt unit if PGE decides to go that route.

Meanwhile, researchers continue to look into whether the coal plant can take on torrefied biomass as an alternative fuel source, using locally sourced material including wood chips, sawdust and possibly arundo donax, or giant cane.

PGE will test the torrefaction process this year, essentially burning the material at high temperatures in the absence of oxygen to change its properties and obtain better fuel quality. Test burns will be held next year to see if the final product is capable of powering the station.

While the experiments are exciting, Mody said they are tempering their expectations. Even if successful, it will take as much as 8,000 tons of biomass per day to keep the generator running.

“Nobody else has done something like this, this big,” Mody said. “It’s not a done deal. We have a lot of steps to go through.”

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