Construction ahead of schedule on Panda Liberty plant
Facility will join a class of gas-fired power plants that are the most efficient in the world
Published: April 13, 2014
ASYLUM TOWNSHIP —The construction of the 829-megawatt power plant in Asylum Township, which will supply the electricity needs of up to 1 million homes, is proceeding ahead of schedule, an official with Moxie Energy LLC said.
“We feel pretty good about the progress” that is being made on the plant’s construction, which started in August, Kent J. Morton, vice president of Moxie Energy, said in a 50-minute presentation about the plant that he made on Tuesday at a meeting of the Bradford-Sullivan chapter of the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP).
In 2013, there had been “a rush to get a lot of (construction) work done so that we could get in the ground before winter set in,” he said.
Panda Power Funds, which is now the majority owner of the plant, “is hoping to finish the plant in 2015. That’s why they hit the ground so hard (undertook a lot of construction activity that began last summer),” Morton said.
In August there were 11 workers on site, he said. The number of workers has been increasing since then, and now there are over 100 on site, he said.
The number of on-site workers will continue to grow until there are about 500 of them, and then the number of workers will start to decrease again, he said.
And where do you park 500 workers’ vehicles?
Five acres along Route 187, where the plant is located, will be used as parking for the construction workers, said Tom Calaman of Joanne Kizer Real Estate, who served as Moxie Energy’s realtor for the plant and who has done other logistical work locally for Moxie. Flagmen and caution signs with flashing lights have been deployed on Route 187 so that workers could safely cross from their parked vehicles to the plant site, he said.
Moxie Energy LLC, which was the initial developer of the plant, last year sold its controlling interest in the plant to Panda Power Funds, a private equity firm headquartered in Dallas, Texas, Morton said. Moxie Energy continues to be a non-controlling owner of the plant, which is now called the Panda Liberty power plant, Morton said.
Moxie had wanted to locate the plant, which will be gas-fired, above the Marcellus Shale, in order to minimize the cost of transporting natural gas to the plant, which is “a huge benefit” in terms of reducing the plant’s operating costs, Morton said.
“We (the Panda Liberty plant) will be a low-cost producer” of electricity, he said. “We zeroed in on Bradford County (as the site for the plant), because it had the most wells and the most mature (natural gas) production,” he said. Bradford County was also chosen because of its proximity to the population centers in New Jersey, New York City and Philadelphia, which will use the plant’s electricity, he said.
And the Asylum Township site is close to Penelec’s East Towanda substation, which is “a major substation that has (power) lines going everywhere,” he said. A power line, almost two miles long, will be constructed alongside an existing power line to connect the Panda Liberty power plant to the East Towanda substation, he said.
Initially, Moxie had planned to obtain the natural gas for the plant by running pipelines directly from 50 to 100 Marcellus wells to the plant, he said.
But the banks that were loaning money for the plant’s construction wanted to be certain there would be a continuous, reliable supply of gas for the plant, so Moxie scrapped its initial plan and the plant will instead obtain its gas via a pipeline from the Tennessee Gas interstate pipeline, Morton said. The Tennessee Gas pipeline is three miles away from the Panda Liberty plant, as the crow flies.
The plant will have an operating efficiency of over 60 percent, putting it in a class of gas-fired power plants that are the most efficient in the world, Morton said. Much of the efficiency is due to the fact that the plant will capture the heat that is given off by its two electricity-producing, gas-fired combustion turbines, and use that heat to produce high-temperature, high-pressure steam, he said. The steam will drive two steam turbines, which will produce additional electricity, according to Moxie Energy.
A local resident asked at the meeting how much noise would be given off by the plant.
Morton replied that, as far as noise levels, the plant has been having a “big impact” during its construction phase. “Earth-moving probably was the biggest impact” in terms of noise, he said.
There will also be loud noises during the testing phase of the plant, before it goes into operation, he said.
However, after the plant is constructed and is in operation, the level of noise coming from the plant will be “very low,” Morton said.
Moxie and Panda will be putting sound-proofing around the plant’s turbines and taking other measures to minimize the noise from the plant, he said.
The maximum noise level at the plant’s property line will be 55 decibels, Morton said. The 55-decibel maximum is a requirement of the land development plan for the plant that was approved by the Asylum Township Planning Commission and township’s board of supervisors, he said.
By comparison, the sound of a refrigerator is 50 decibels, and the noise from a dishwasher ranges from 55 to 70 decibels.
Morton said that Moxie brought government officials from Bradford County to a gas-fired power plant in Gettysburg, which is almost identical to the planned Panda Liberty plant, to get an idea of what the Panda Liberty plant would be like.
Asylum Township Planning Commission Chairman Tom House, who went on the trip to Gettysburg, said the operators of the Gettysburg plant gave those on the tour earplugs to wear inside the plant, which was in operation at the time.
However, House said, “there was no offensive noise coming out of the plant.”
“I was totally satisfied with what we weren’t hearing,” House said.
Moxie and Panda have also started construction on a 829-megawatt gas-fired power plant in Lycoming County, which will be nearly identical to the Panda Liberty plant, Morton said.
The Panda Liberty plant, whose total cost is over $800 million, is expected to generate a lot of tax revenue for the Towanda Area School District and the county, he said.
Constructing natural gas-fired power plants in the Marcellus Shale, such as the Panda plants in Asylum Township and Lycoming County, could reduce the cost of electricity in the region, which should help to attract industry and businesses to the area, he said.
“For almost every industry, energy is the primary cost,” Morton added.
The development of the gas industry in the Marcellus Shale has also provided Moxie Energy and Panda with a pool of skilled workers to draw from, he said.
Regulatory agencies had to approve the Panda Liberty plant’s 90-foot-high stacks, due to the proximity of the Bradford County Airport, he said.
James Loewenstein can be reached at (570) 265-1633; or email: email@example.com