California barge power plant needs approval


Anne de Rouffignac
OGJ Online


Borrowing a quick-fix solution popular in Third World countries, California's PG&E Corp. wants to move a barge-mounted power plant to the San Francisco area for emergency electricity service by mid-August.

With support from the California Independent System Operator, PG&E began seeking a barge power plant last spring in anticipation of summer problems. PG&E acquired the barge from El Paso Energy Corp. and its accompanying turbines from General Electric Co., says PG&E spokeswoman Sandra McDonough.

The 95-Mw jet fuel-fired plant will run during extreme electrical emergencies, she says. Under the permits being negotiated, the unit will operate a total of 200 hr/year through the summer of 2001 only. But the barge remains docked at Freeport, Tex., while state and local permits are pending with regulatory authorities. It will take about 1 month to move it to the Panama Canal and then up to the California coast, McDonough says.

Barge-mounted power plants are beginning to be employed in the US similar to their use in Third World countries where quick fixes to electricity supply problems are often the only alternative. In March of this year, the Long Island Power Authority (LIPA)�worried about shortages of power during the summer peak in the New York area�accepted a proposal to bring in a barge-mounted 60 Mw oil-fired turbine.

Siting new power plants in urban areas can be difficult. LIPA expected the barge to provide some relief until transmission constraints could be alleviated and power more easily imported to Long Island.

Parts of California, especially in the Bay area, have been wracked by power shortages and even blackouts this summer. At times the California ISO has had to request utilities to call on certain customers to curtail electricity use.

The costs associated with emergency efforts to cut power usage when the system is strained are very high, says McDonough. Despite the state's economic growth and accompanying increase in electricity demand, new generating capacity has not kept up. Only a few new power plants are expected to be in operation in the summer of 2001and a few more by summer 2002.

The barge-mounted power plant is one way to bridge the gap between today�s demand for electricity and tomorrow�s new power plants, she says. The barge can simply be sent to a different market when the emergency has subsided.

The three sites being considered to locate the barge are Potrero, San Francisco Airport, and Redwood City.

While the jet fuel-fired turbines are not the most environmentally sensitive solution, PG&E considers the barge-mounted power plant an emergency measure to be used only when necessary until new state-of-the-art power plants come on line, McDonough says.

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