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New natural gas power plant in Oregon opens

August 21, 2017

His voice slightly raised to get above the low thrum of the Oregon Clean Energy power plant behind him, Gov. John Kasich made clear on Monday where he stands on Ohio’s electric future.

“This is the future. This is a big deal,” the governor said of the Oregon plant.

On 30 acres, the gas turbines at Oregon Clean Energy generate 870 megawatts — nearly as much electricity as FirstEnergy Corp.’s sprawling Davis-Besse nuclear power station in Ottawa County, which produces 900 megawatts. And, thanks to a glut of natural gas in Ohio, Pennsylvania, and elsewhere across the United States, the new plant does so with significantly better economics.

That’s been a boon to places like Oregon, where access to water, natural gas, and the electric grid have come together to lure in some $1.7 billion in new investment from independent power companies.

VIDEO: Tyrel Linkhorn discusses the opening of Oregon’s new natural gas power plant

About half of that went to the Oregon Clean Energy plant, which began producing electricity for customers on July 1 and is owned by investment funds Ares Management L.P. of Los Angeles and I Squared Capital of New York. The other $900 million will go to a nearby second gas-turbine facility, owned and developed by Manchester, Mass.-based Clean Energy Future LLC, which is expected to start construction next year.

Speaking ahead of a ribbon-cutting for the Oregon Clean Energy plant, Mr. Kasich said the state must continue to be an attractive place for those kinds of projects.

“I think it’s important that Ohio stay in a deregulated environment which brings these investors,” Mr. Kasich said. “If all of a sudden you don’t have a level playing field, then you don’t have significant investment. People go in another place.”

While the governor didn’t mention FirstEnergy in his prepared remarks, the Akron-based utility seemed to be on his mind. The company has sought help from the state legislature to force customers to subsidize the operations of its two nuclear plants, including Davis-Besse.

Otherwise, FirstEnergy has said, the sites will close.

Mr. Kasich did take a question after the event on whether he could in any way support that company’s request for what critics have called a bailout.

“Not at this point,” Mr. Kasich said. “I think that economic decisions have to be made, and I just think they’re going to have to work their way through this themselves.”

The governor also said in a brief interview that he supports having renewable power sources as part of the mix and still sees a role for coal-fired plants. Even so, the area’s last coal-fired plant — FirstEnergy’s Bay Shore in Oregon — already has shut down its coal-fired generators. The plant is to close entirely in 2020.

In 1999, the Bay Shore plant produced 655 megawatts. But in 2001, the Bay Shore plant was one of four coal-fired plants in the Lake Erie region that First Energy considered selling. A proposed deal was scrapped in 2002.

Bay Shore production was decreased after that, reaching a low of 136 megawatts in 2016.

Oregon Clean Energy makes its power from natural gas. The site has three generators. Two are powered directly by natural gas, while the third is spun by steam that’s generated from the exhaust heat of the other two turbines. Water used for cooling and for steam generation is purchased from the city of Oregon. Oregon Clean Energy’s owners invested $12 million into Oregon’s water infrastructure to pay for upgrades.

Peter Rigney, the plant’s general manager, said the plant is twice as efficient as a traditional power plant. The plant generates enough power for 700,000 homes.

Mr. Rigney said the power that Oregon Clean Energy generated is sold to PJM Interconnection, the 13-state regional grid operator that oversees Ohio

“Every day we get our dispatch for the next day. We bid this into the market every day,” Mr. Rigney said. “That’s what makes it so efficient. We have no subsidy, we have no captive ratepayers. We have to make our dollar every day.”

Nearly 1,000 people were involved in construction of the power plant, though its full-time operational employment is 25.

Mr. Kasich spoke less than 10 minutes at the event. In addition to his remarks on Ohio’s energy future, he spoke of the work his administration has done about the issue of toxic algae in Lake Erie.

But Mr. Kasich, the term-limited governor who has said he’s not planning to run for any other office again, also went through what seemed to be the high points of a campaign speech. That included Ohio’s rainy day surplus, job creation numbers since he’s been in office, and — unprompted — an aside about the state’s Medicaid expansion under the Affordable Care Act.

“One of the great things that we’ve been able to do is the expansion of Medicaid. Because what it’s done, is it’s opened opportunities for the mentally ill, the drug addicted, and the chronically ill,” he said. “Think about this for a second, if one day you woke up and you had no health insurance. Can you imagine what your life would be like?”

Mr. Kasich made a brief reference to the recent events in Charlottesville, but he did not mention President Trump.

He did, however, suggest answers to many problems are going to be found locally.

“It’s us and our neighbors. We wonder about the big leaders and all that,” he said. “At the end of the day, it’s not the big leaders, it’s the people who live in the communities like Oregon who make such a big difference.”

Toledo Blade
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