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Natural gas now fuels electricity generated at UGI’s Hunlock Creek Energy Center

From the Times Leader (Northeastern Pennsylvania)

HUNLOCK TWP. — These days, Peter Quattrini gladly talks about his conversion.

The Hunlock Creek Energy Center switched to natural gas from the Marcellus Shale to generate electricity, and, a few months ago, got rid of what remained of the boiler house from when coal was burned at the plant on U.S. Route 11 along the Susquehanna River.

Quattrini, plant manager for UGI Power Generation, led a media tour of the plant Wednesday, showing off the scaled-down facility with much of the equipment concealed in metal structures and behind chain link fences topped with barbed wire. Gone were mountains of ash waste stored on the 136-acres site and in the hulking buildings and smokestacks, all part of the switch by owner UGI Development Co. to a cleaner burning fuel as the federal government tightened emissions standards.

The General Electric logo affixed to an exterior wall marked the location of the two turbines capable of lifting a jet aircraft miles high in the sky, but mounted firmly on the ground and connected to generators to make electricity for distribution onto the national power grid.

“Actually these area the same engines that hang off a (Boeing) 767,” Quattrini said.

The engines, marked units 5 and 6, can each produce 50 megawatts of power, enough for more than 100,000 homes, he said.

Their exhausts get put to good use to produce steam pumped through pipes to spin a 1959 Westinghouse turbine, the last of three units added to the coal-fired plant. With the conversion to natural gas, the turbine was refurbished and can generate 25-32 megawatts of power.

Construction on the original plant commenced in 1924. Work on the modern facility began in 2009, a year after UGI started planning for the fuel switch.

“It came to a point where we had to improve emissions on the coal-fired plant,” Quattrini said.

It would have cost too much to install the equipment to make the plant meet the federal Environmental Protection Agency’s emissions’ standards, so UGI opted to convert to natural gas, added Larry Godlasky, director of government affairs for UGI Energy Services.

Little did it know the effects the Marcellus Shale in the state’s northern tier counties would have on the price of natural gas on the open market and the operation of the Hunlock Creek facility.

“At the time we didn’t expect — at the time the Marcellus Shale Play was just becoming commercially viable, and since that time, natural gas prices have dropped significantly with the greater output from the Marcellus Shale,” Godlasky said.

UGI originally intended to operate the plant 2,000-2,500 hours a year. “But the low cost of natural gas has made it economical for us to run it around the clock,” Godlasky said.

The plant that came on line on July 1, 2011, runs more than 7,000 hours a year. Nitrogen oxide emissions “were reduced by a factor of 10” and sulfur dioxide also was reduced. In comparison the coal-fired plant burned 220,000 tons of coal annually, creating between 50,000 and 60,000 tons of ash and polluting the air.

It cost more than $10 million to clean up the site and remove 381,863 tons of ash. The basin where the ash was piled has been restored to a green area, eliminating airborne particles and runoff. The overall conversion cost approximately $125 million, Quattrini said.

Godlasky pointed out another benefit as a result of the conversion at Hunlock Creek Energy Center. PJM, the power pool for UGI and other participants, sets the market price based on their offers, he explained. The low fuel costs are driving down the price of electricity as shown by PPL Electric Utilities’ recent 17- percent drop in its generation rate for customers, Godlasky said.

“That’s a direct result of units like this using natural gas to generate electricity,” Godlasky said.