Marcellus is “Game Changer” for New Electric Power Plants

Dominion will build a huge, new 1,300-megawatt power plant in Virginia—and it will be powered by Marcellus Shale gas. Final regulatory approval for the plant will come sometime in 2012, and the construction will be completed by 2014. The fact that power generating companies are constructing new power plants that use natural gas as the sole fuel source signals an important shift in the energy picture for the U.S.

The 1,300-megawatt facility…will use natural-gas turbines to produce electricity. It’s also a combined cycle plant, meaning waste heat from the turbines will be used to produce steam and generate electricity.

The plant is being built by Dominion Virginia Power in Warren County near Front Royal.

The Virginia plant is another signal that natural gas is gaining more than a foothold among utilities.

Natural gas has typically been used to fuel smaller “peaking” generators that provide power during periods of high demand, such as summer air-conditioning season. Larger “baseload” plants, which provide year-round power, have traditionally been coal-fired because the cheaper fuel has made them more economical to run, though more expensive to build.

But the Dominion natural gas plant will be a baseload plant. Company officials said relatively cheap natural gas and the discovery of large troves of shale gas have convinced them that more of the fuel should be used by the utility. One of the big shale areas, the Marcellus field, is in the northeast United States.

“The game changer is Marcellus,” said Jim Norvelle, a spokesman for Dominion.

Natural gas often can be locked in with long-term contracts…which offers some extra assurance. And natural gas burns much more cleanly than coal, which is expected to be increasingly valuable depending on environmental regulations.*

*The Kansas City Star (Sep 19, 2011) – KC firm Burns & McDonnell lands contract to help build Virginia power plant