Power plant proposed for Brandywine

August 19, 2013

A private-equity firm called Panda Power Funds has proposed to build an 859-megawatt natural-gas-fired power plant in an industrial area of Brandywine in Prince George’s County that it said would create 700 to 800 construction jobs and 25 long-term jobs for people to run the facility.

Every megawatt of plant capacity is enough to power about a thousand homes. Maryland imports 40 percent of its electricity from power plants in other states.

The Dallas-based firm, which needs the approval of the Maryland Public Service Commission for the plant, said it has taken pains to make it “one of the cleanest, most efficient” natural-gas-fueled power plants. It said that it would use recycled municipal wastewater for cooling and return its wastewater to a treatment plant to avoid harmful discharges into the Chesapeake Bay.

Panda Power, which owns a solar farm in New Jersey and has three power plants under construction in Texas, was formed in 2010 and manages funds raised mostly from large pension funds. It hopes to begin construction of the Maryland plant in late 2014 or early 2015 and to complete it by mid-2017.

The proposed plant would attempt to take advantage of broad changes going on in electric power markets. Although Maryland barred drilling for shale gas and Gov. Martin O’Malley (D) has sought to boost renewable energy projects, large new supplies of shale gas in nearby Pennsylvania have helped drive down prices and triggered a wave of gas plant construction.

Moreover, with many aging coal plants slated for closure, Panda Power hopes its output would be in strong demand in the regional electricity grid. Panda Power spokesman Bill Pentak noted that the regional grid has plants producing 20,000 megawatts of power scheduled to be shut down. He added that power plants producing 70,000 megawatts in the region have an average age of 56 years.

The firm did not disclose total construction costs, but the U.S. Energy Information Administration has estimated that the cost of the relatively more efficient but costly combined-cycle gas plant of the type proposed by Panda is about $1 million per megawatt, which would be about $860 million for this project. Panda Power said that the project would “contribute” about $1.2 billion to the Maryland economy over a 10-year period.

The firm said the plant would be located between Air Force Road and the CSX rail line off Brandywine Road. It said that it would be designed with large setbacks, low sight lines, trees and berms to hide it from view and preserve local home values.

Steven Mufson covers the White House. Since joining The Post, he has covered economics, China, foreign policy and energy.
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