‘Technically Sophisticated’ Combined Cycle Plant Comes Online

The Lackawanna Energy Center in Pennsylvania entered commercial operation Jan. 15, with the $1.5 billion project heralded by its developer, Invenergy, as among the most “technically sophisticated” combined cycle natural gas-fired plants in operation.

The 1,485-MW facility, in the borough of Jessup in Lackawanna County, was completed ahead of schedule and features three General Electric (GE) 7HA.02 high-efficiency, air-cooled natural gas combustion turbines. The facility is expected to provide baseload power to the PJM Interconnection regional transmission organization (RTO) and have the flexibility to respond to spikes in demand, as it balances intermittency on the power grid with the integration of renewables. (A time-lapse video of the plant’s construction is available here.)

“This project is as complicated a combined cycle [plant] as they come,” said Michael Polsky, Chicago-based Invenergy’s founder and CEO, in an interview with POWER. “I think it was pretty remarkable how the Invenergy team and our partners, Kiewit [which build the plant] and GE, did this project, I would say flawlessly. We are [opening] a couple of months ahead of schedule.”

Said Polsky: “[The plant] has the latest technology. It’s the first of its kind to have single-shaft power blocks, where you have the generator and steam turbine in one shaft, with an air-cooled condenser.”

Polsky noted that the facility’s Administration and Control Building is LEED-Gold certified. It has a rooftop solar array, and Invenergy in a press release said the plant’s design is “60% more energy efficient than similar conventional buildings.”

Finished Ahead of Schedule

Construction of the plant began in March 2016, and stayed ahead of schedule despite a stoppage in spring 2017 due to a winter storm.

Dave Flickinger, executive vice president of Kiewit Corp., said, “Designing and building the Lackawanna Energy Center required the largest staff and craft workforce ever assembled by Kiewit Power Constructors Co. “It’s been an excellent experience partnering with Invenergy, who values worker safety and project execution as much as we do. We’re proud to have been part of the team that successfully delivered this important project.”

Feedstock gas for the plant is supplied by Cabot Oil & Gas via two pipelines: Kinder Morgan’s Tennessee Gas Pipeline, and another operated by UGI.

The plant joins two other gas-fired facilities that have recently started up in Pennsylvania. Tenaska’s 940-MW Westmoreland Generating Station began operating on Dec. 21, 2018. That same day, developer McDermott International announced that Calpine Corp.’s York 2 Energy Center in Peach Bottom achieved first fire and steam blows of its Units 5 and 6. York 2 Energy Center is an 828-MW, dual-fueled plant at the same site as Calpine’s York Energy Center. The combustion turbines will primarily use natural gas but also can run on ultra-low-sulfur diesel fuel oil.

According to PJM, there are currently about two dozen gas-fired power plants under construction or being upgraded in the RTO’s territory, which includes all or part of 13 states and the District of Columbia. The region is benefiting from prolific natural gas production in the nearby Marcellus and Utica shale plays.

The U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) recently reported that the average annual capacity factors for natural gas-fired generators in the PJM, which is the largest competitive wholesale electricity market in the U.S., showed the largest increase of any RTO from 2013–2017. Capacity factors are an indicator of how often a generator is run.

During the five-year period, EIA said 14.4 GW of coal capacity in PJM were retired. The agency said about 1.8 GW of gas-fired generation was retired, with 11.0 GW of gas-fired capacity added. About 95% of that increase attributed to combined cycle units.

PJM’s Generation Deactivations chart on its website shows more than 7.8 GW of coal-fired generation capacity is scheduled to be closed in the RTO over the next three years, in addition to more than 3.6 GW of generation capacity taken offline in 2018.

“[The Lackawanna plant] does use fossil fuel, but the way we look at this is, not all fossil fuels are the same. This plant is displacing more-dirty, less-efficient fossil fuels,” said Polsky. “It helps accomplish the transition to cleaner energy. We can’t get to 100% renewables overnight.”

Single-Shaft Design

The Lackawanna facility features a single-shaft generation design where each of its three power islands are comprised of a combustion turbine and steam turbine that share a single generator. The design maximizes operational efficiency while still allowing for the independent operation of each natural gas turbine.

“In this particular case, we determined that GE turbines were the most appropriate for this application,” Polsky said. “They fit for this configuration very well. They’re the most-efficient on the market. We did extensive research and determined this was the best equipment for this project.”

“GE and Invenergy’s long-standing relationship brings together two organizations focused on powering the world more efficiently and sustainably with the world’s most advanced technology,” said Chuck Nugent, president and CEO of GE Power’s Gas Power Systems business. “We are proud to continue this relationship and to supply Invenergy’s state-of-the-art Lackawanna facility with the HA turbine, the world’s largest and most efficient gas turbine.”

Darrell Proctor is a POWER associate editor (@DarrellProctor1, @POWERmagazine).