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New gas plant planned for northern Ohio

November 19, 2012

Two power industry veterans are teaming up in Ohio to develop an 800-MW natural gas-fired plant to ostensibly lessen the risk of capacity shortfalls in the region once older coal units representing thousands of megawatts of generation are retired for environmental reasons over the next few years.

Oregon Clean Energy said in a letter to the Ohio Power Siting Board this week it intends to construct the roughly $800 million combined-cycle project near the northern Ohio community of Oregon in Lucas County.

A formal application for a certificate of environmental compatibility and public need is expected to be filed by the company in December.

CME Energy, headed by William Martin, and William Siderewicz, a former Calpine senior executive, co-own North American Project Development, the parent company of Oregon Clean Energy. Collectively, they have developed more than 10,000 MW of private power plants on virtually every continent.

Martin, who several years ago proposed building a coal gasification plant in Ohio before the 2008 recession put the kibosh to those ideas, said in a Thursday interview the new gas project was "evolutionary" in a sense.

"In talking with different parties in Ohio it became clear to me there were capacity problems in northwest Ohio," he said. Quietly, he began to secure a plant site in Oregon, a Toledo suburb and just two miles from Lake Erie.

"When you look at the capacity challenges in 2017, if you're a regulator you're a little nervous," he said. "We've been studying this for three years. Also, new technology results in great heat rates. We're aiming for an extremely strong heat rate."

Martin, who lives in the Boston area and had talked about moving to Turkey with his wife, came out of retirement to build a solar project in Rhode Island, proving again that once a developer always a developer.

"I was like an alligator in the water, waiting for some buffalo to cross," he said. "And then this little water buffalo walked in front of me and I grabbed it by the legs."

The 3-MW solar project, to be built by CME, has a power purchase agreement with National Grid, he said.

The new gas plant will not be a merchant facility. Martin said negotiations are ongoing with several potential power offtakers. "We've had some offers, so that gives us a feeling we have a project here," he said.

Oregon Clean Energy expects to sign PPAs with at least two purchasers, probably by the end of the year.

The project site is located in an area served by FirstEnergy's American Transmission Systems Inc. subsidiary. "We can wheel into a 345-kV interconnect and can go north, south, east or west," he said.

Negotiations also are under way with potential gas suppliers. "We're at the Maumee hub," he said. "We're negotiating with all the suppliers in the area. We have a lot of gas options."

While he would not disclose specific information about gas pricing, he said the developers are "using conservative pricing, above what the five-year futures are showing, and it still works very well. The shale gas and infrastructure building suggest we have a pretty good story."

Still, he acknowledged gas prices potentially are the most volatile and least predictable part of the project's financial equation.

But, "We're aiming for tolling agreements that should neutralize that."

Martin said the project will be fully financed through Equity Investors Funds, which he described as a $4.5 billion energy equity fund.

In addition to the power siting board, the project needs an air permit from the city of Toledo. The siting board has scheduled a November 29 public meeting in Oregon to discuss the plant.

If all goes well, "We're aiming to get a shovel in the ground next summer," he said. The construction schedule is estimated at 30 months, meaning the plant could be up and running at the end of May 2016.

The project is expected to create up to 400 construction and 25 or 26 permanent jobs.