Lawrence Gas-Fired Power Plant OK'd

Article excerpt

A natural gas-fired power plant proposed for Lawrence County is the sixth planned in Pennsylvania, but they may not all get built, even though coal power plants are closing, the Electric Power Generation Association's leader said on Thursday.

"I'd be surprised if all ... of these got built," said Doug Biden, president of the Harrisburg industry group. "Maybe eventually, but not breaking ground within the next year."

North Beaver planning officials gave preliminary approval this week for New Jersey-based LS Power to build a $750 million plant fired by natural gas. It could employ 500 workers during a two-year construction. The company chose a site just east of state Route 551, the American Cyanamid Co. explosives manufacturing plant vacant since the 1960s, county and company officials said.

The Lawrence County plan joins gas-fired plant proposals in Westmoreland and Washington counties, one announced on Wednesday for Bradford County and two others across the state trying to take advantage of the riches of ample gas from Appalachian shale drilling, Biden said.

Electric prices are low, making the market competitive, though there's room for some plants to replace nine coal-fired plants closing statewide, he added.

There also are state mandates for future power generation from renewable sources -- including solar, wind and hydroelectric generation -- further limiting the market for new gas plants, he said.

This will be LS Power's first venture in Western Pennsylvania and Eastern Ohio, project manager Casey Carroll said.

The plant, Hickory Run Energy Station, could open by 2016 or 2017 -- pending state environmental permits -- with a 900-megawatt capacity. It will likely have 25 permanent employees, he said.

"There is room for multiple (new plants) just to get back to where we were, not even accounting for the natural load growth (in electricity use) that's added every year," Carroll said by phone from the company's development office in St. Louis. "Given the abundance of relatively low-cost, locally produced natural gas, we feel like this opportunity is one that's unique."

Several township and county officials are enthusiastic about the project, they said on Thursday. The company has not asked for tax breaks but will pay about $500,000 annually in local school taxes, county officials and Carroll said.

The township plans a public hearing about the proposal at 3:45 p.m. Nov. 5 in the municipal building, Planning Commission Chairman Jim Gagliano Jr. said. Township supervisors could approve municipal permits that day at their meeting after the hearing, he added. …