LS Power, NRG add new generation in time to meet Texas power use

HOUSTON, June 19 Wed Jun 19, 2013 6:08pm EDT

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HOUSTON, June 19 (Reuters) - The Sandy Creek coal plant has begun operating in McLennan County, a year later than planned after the boiler was damaged during initial testing, an LS Power official said this week.

The 925-megawatt coal-fired plant, one of only a few new coal plants being completed across the country, has come online in time to help the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) meet power demand, which soars in the summer.

"We are economically dispatching the facility while undertaking the remaining ERCOT testing," said George Scienski of LS Power.

Forecasts for hotter-than-normal weather in Texas this summer have reduced the amount of surplus electricity available to the lowest level in a decade, raising the prospect for frequent calls for conservation and possible rolling outages, the grid agency has warned.

Also nearing completion to meet summer power demand is NRG Energy's 75-MW "peaker" near Houston. The unit is in final testing at the W.A. Parish plant near Houston and should be available to supply power to the grid next month, a spokesman said on Wednesday. NRG, the second largest power generator in Texas, accelerated construction of the unit to boost the state's power supply, which is not growing as fast as demand.

A peaker plant is able to start in minutes to meet high demand. The Parish peaker will be available this summer and in 2014. After 2014, the unit is expected to support operation of a post-combustion carbon capture system, which is in development at the Parish site.

LS had expected Sandy Creek to begin producing electricity in 2012, but in October 2011 boiler tubes were overheated as the plant was being test-fired, damaging the boiler and delaying the plant's operation.

Sandy Creek owners include privately held LS Power, with a 64 percent stake; Brazos Sandy Creek Electric Cooperative, with a 25 percent stake; and the Lower Colorado River Authority, with an 11 percent stake.

NRG and Dallas-based Luminant, the state's largest power company, have also restarted some older power plants for the summer. Luminant said it had restarted this month the Monticello 1 and 2 coal-fired units, each rated 583 MW, and NRG restarted 727 MW of older gas-fired generation near Houston.

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