BP pushes new power plant

Published on Thu, May 10, 2001 by Soren Velice

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BP pushes new power plant

By Soren Velice

To speed up an application to build a 750-megawatt power plant, BP Cherry Point refinery has teamed up with the state Energy Facility Site Evaluation Council (EFSEC) for a potential site study. The collaboration began May 2 with a public meeting at the performing arts center.

After power prices spiked last winter and drove costs to as much as $3 million in one day, BP officials decided the refinery should make its own power. “We wanted to ensure a long-term, stable power source,” BP spokesman Scott Walker said. “The reason it’s 750 megawatts is some of the newest turbines are the largest turbines,” cogeneration project environmental manager Mike Torpey said. The proposed plant would use three 250-megawatt generators; officials say three are necessary so if one is down for scheduled maintenance and another breaks, the third could still power the refinery.

Most people at the meeting appeared to support the plant. “We need power,” said Chuck Donaghy, a Birch Bay contractor. “This seems to be safe and clean. This is a power-using society; everything around you took energy to produce.” Another audience member supported BP because of its impact on the economy. “Thanks for having high-paying jobs,” she said. “Without you we’d be primarily a fast-food service county.”

Not everyone present was a proponent, though, and many concerns revolved around noise and pollution. “I see this as one of many projects coming forward,” said one of three Canadian residents who spoke at the meeting. “I’m curious about how EFSEC looks at the cumulative impact on the airshed. I’m concerned that Canadian gas gets brought across the border, converted to energy not necessary for the local market – maybe it’s bound for California.”

EFSEC manager Alan Fiksdal said after the meeting EFSEC examines cumulative impacts in the environmental impact study.

Whatcom County council member Barbara Brenner said she hoped the county wouldn’t get stuck with pollution while power is shipped south. “I would like to see you pledge to meet the needs of Whatcom County first, then sell the excess,” she said.

According to BP, the plant would result in a net reduction of the refinery’s releases by using heat from power generation instead of its 30-year-old boilers to make steam. A Canadian resident asked how many criteria pollutants such as nitrogen oxides, sulphur oxides, carbon monoxide, particles and volatile organic compounds are currently released by the plant. Criteria pollutants are those monitored by the Northwest Air Quality Authority.

He also asked how much carbon dioxide – not a criteria pollutant – would be released. BP health, safety and environment manager Karen Payne said she thought the current release of criteria pollutants is about 6,000 tons per year and the generators would produce around 3 million tons of carbon dioxide per year. BP officials added the release is tempered by BP’s commitment to the Kyoto Protocol; they said the corporation pledged to reduce its worldwide greenhouse gas emissions by 10 percent from 1990 levels by 2010. “Air discharge and water use are the two biggest concerns we’ve heard recently with projects in this state,” Fiksdal responded.

Several audience members asked if BP could use the generators to help Intalco, currently suffering power problems of its own, but BP officials said they couldn’t make power cheaply enough for the smelter. “We haven’t got the numbers for our plant yet,” project manager Mark Moore said, “but with current gas prices it would cost about $50 per megawatt.”

Moore also said after the meeting although the natural gas turbines are too finicky to burn flare gas because of its inconsistent composition, BP is looking into using it for steam production. “Manufacturers of turbines are pretty particular about what you put in them,” Moore said. “Normally, BP is pretty good on fuel gas; we don’t have to flare often.”

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