GenForum panel sees lots of low-carbon options available to Sun Belt

The Sun Belt states, with their mild weather, have plenty of options for lower-carbon power generation, officials said during a panel discussion at the GenForum gathering Dec. 12 in Orlando, Fla.

GenForum was organized by PennWell’s GenerationHub.

In addition to the two new reactor units being developed at the Vogtle nuclear station by Southern (NYSE:SO) utility Georgia Power and its partners, the Energy Department is also backing loans for renewable power projects and other innovation, said one panelist.

A second highlighted an breakthrough energy storage project that could serve California and a third panelist stressed that much of the carbon reductions so far have come from substituting natural gas for coal-fired power.

Higgins stresses success of DOE loan program

Department of Energy (DOE) Loan Programs Office (LPO) official Mark Higgins said his department been “Investing in American Energy” under the Title 17 program authorized by the Energy Policy Act of 2005.

Higgins is the Deputy Director for the Technical and Project Management Division with the DOE Loan Programs Office.

“We have $40 billion right now” in four different buckets – advanced vehicle technology and manufacturing, advanced fossil energy, renewable energy and efficient energy and advanced nuclear.

The DOE loan program is designed to address “gaps” in the financial markets and back innovative technology that might otherwise have a tough time getting commercial loans, Higgins said.

While the loan program is noted for one publicized failure – the Solyndra solar company, most of its efforts have been successful, Higgins said.

“Aren’t you the guys who did Solyndra? Yes we are,” Higgins said.

“We are able to step in and help those organizations get their technology off the ground,” Higgins said of emergency technology.

For example, in 2010 there were “zero” utility-scale solar projects in the United States – “none,” Higgins said. Commercial lenders shied away from them. DOE started the ball rolling with five photovoltaic (PV) projects totally 1,502 MW. Today there are around 45 privately-funded PV projects totaling more than 9,400 MW as of September, Higgins added.

The DOE loan program, started during the George W. Bush administration, has to have greenhouse gas reduction benefits and use technology that has not been deployed more than three times.

The loans are backed by the federal government and can be issued for up to 30 years, Higgins said.

The DOE LPO success stories include:

  • The NextEra Energy (NYSE:NEE) Desert Sunlight project in Riverside County, California. The project has 550 MW of capacity and its projected annual electric output of more than 1 million MWh, Higgins said. Other participants in the project were General Electric (NYSE:GE) and Sumitomo of America.
  • The SolarReserve Crescent Dunes project in Nye County, Nevada has a capacity of 110 MW and projected annual generation of about 482,000 MWh. Other participants were ACS Cobra and Banco Santander. The project has more than two miles of solar mirrors. It combines the world’s largest power tower with storage.
  • The Caithness Energy Shepherds Flat wind project is located in Gilliam County and Morrow County in Oregon. It has an 845 MW generating capacity and a projected annual generation of more than 1.8 million MWh. The eastern Oregon project is one of the world’s largest wind plants.
  • The U.S. Geothermal/Enbridge USG Oregon energy project in Malheur County Oregon is a 22-MW project. It has a project annual generation of 149,000 MW. It features a more efficient thermal extraction technology, Higgins said.
  • “We also do transmission” such as the One Nevada line developed by LS Power, NV Energy and John Hancock. It is a 235-mile-long line in eastern Nevada with a transmission capacity of 600 MW.

The existing loan funding is expected to run out at the end of 2017. “We are a self-funding organization.” DOE has requested $4bn worth of new loan authority.

Big compressed air project in California could help power California

Veteran power industry consultant Robert Schulte, who heads North Carolina-based Schulte Associates, discussed an ambitious plan to use a planned compressed air energy storage (CAES) project in Utah to help California public power entities replace the electricity they now get from the Utah Associated Municipal Power Systems  (UAMPS) Intermountain coal-fired power plant.

The Utah CAES Project Phase 1 is proposed to be a 300 MW generation facility located at Delta, Utah and connected to the Intermountain Power Project (IPP) substation. This project has transmission access to Southern California through the DC-Tie from the Intermountain substation to the Adelanto substation close to the Los Angeles Basin. Phase I is an initial effort leading to a larger, 1200 MW CAES/renewable energy combination project to follow.

The energy would be generated by wind power turbines and the compressed air would be stored in underground salt caverns owned by Magnum Energy, not far from the existing coal plant.

By California law, California municipal power agencies must stop buying power from the Utah coal plant by 2025.

Phase 1 of the first 300 MW phase of the project is projected for 2020, Schulte said. The compressed air storage facility has been included as part of a request for proposals (RFP) to help replace the municipals energy supply.

“Storage can integrate more renewables than CCGT (combined-cycle gas turbine),” Schulte said. This could help Southern California Public Power Authority (SCPPA) meet its state renewable portfolio standard (RPS) obligations, he added.

Schulte was a utility executive before starting his own consulting firm.

Casey calls natural gas proven bridge fuel to low-CO2 future

“Natural gas is a lower carbon low cost option for power generation which avoids wind and solar intermittency issues,” Beaufort Rosemary Managing Director Kevin Casey said.

Casey worked extensively with BP on issues ranging from oil, gas and power plant financing before running his own firm.

The shift to natural gas generation from coal is already a major contributor to total CO2 emission reductions in the United States, Casey said. Gas tends to have about half of the emissions of a coal plant.

“Natural gas is plentiful and available in the Sun Belt and will play an increasingly important low carbon role,” Casey said. Casey foresees high deliverability with few interruptions in the Sun Belt. Storage also exists for natural gas, Casey said.

The Sun Belt, stretching from South Carolina to Southern California, tends to have significant amounts of natural gas transmission pipeline.

“Fossil fuels are not going away” anytime soon either internationally and the United States, Casey said. While renewables have seen extraordinary growth, they are not the dominant part of the power grid, he added.

Natural gas is both economical and flexible, enabling it to integrate intermittent renewable sources. Natural gas also emits fewer non-CO2 air emissions than coal-fired plants, Casey said.  

The natural gas economics look good and there is ample potential for increased natural gas generation as demand increases, Casey said.

About Wayne Barber 4201 Articles
Wayne Barber, Chief Analyst for the GenerationHub, has been covering power generation, energy and natural resources issues at national publications for more than 20 years. Prior to joining PennWell he was editor of Generation Markets Week at SNL Financial for nine years. He has also worked as a business journalist at both McGraw-Hill and Financial Times Energy. Wayne also worked as a newspaper reporter for several years. During his career has visited nuclear reactors and coal mines as well as coal and natural gas power plants. Wayne can be reached at