Charles, Firm Reach Deal To Build Power Plant

By Megan Greenwell
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, December 14, 2008

A Silver Spring company has reached an agreement with Charles County officials that clears the way for construction of a $500 million natural gas power plant in St. Charles.

The agreement, announced Wednesday, is the most significant development in Competitive Power Ventures' year-long effort to build what it says will be one of the cleanest power plants in the mid-Atlantic region. The plant is considered a critical piece of energy planning for the Washington region.

Under the agreement, CPV will buy reclaimed water from the county's Mattawoman Wastewater Treatment plant to cool its facility, which will power about 600,000 homes in the Washington and Baltimore regions. Company officials said the plant will use polluted water that otherwise would flow into the Potomac River and Chesapeake Bay.

"Selling reclaimed water . . . is good for the residents of Charles County, good for CPV, good for local groundwater supplies, good for our economy and good for the Potomac River and Chesapeake Bay," said Wayne Cooper (D-At Large), president of the county Board of Commissioners.

Without the plant, Maryland is expected to experience rolling brownouts by 2011 because of electric shortages across the state, said Sharon K. Segner, CPV's project manager for the St. Charles plant.

"With this milestone agreement, CPV St. Charles is the only project in the state of Maryland that has both local and statewide support," she said. "As the state looks for various options for how to ensure that the lights stay on in 2012, we clearly stand ready to serve."

The company has received permits from the Maryland Public Service Commission to build the plant. CPV officials are trying to secure private financing so they can begin building a 14-mile pipeline to carry water from the Mattawoman plant to the power plant.

Construction is expected to begin in the summer, and the project could bring $56 million in revenue to the county over the next 15 years, according to county estimates. The plant will create about 25 permanent jobs for local residents, Segner said.

A state report concluded last year that increases in population and poor strategic planning will create a 17 percent increase in electricity usage statewide between 2005 and 2016. The report called for a 1,500-watt increase in available electricity, about 40 percent of which would be supplied by the St. Charles plant.

The plant will be on a 77-acre parcel in the Piney Reach Business Park, next to the county landfill on Billingsley Road. CPV officials said they considered the site ideal because it had once been approved for a coal-fired power plant, although that deal collapsed in 2002 because it was not economically viable.

The earlier project, known as the Kelson Ridge plant, was hailed as the county's largest economic development initiative when it was proposed in 1999. It was granted all necessary permits in 2001, but a downturn in the energy market led Houston-based Reliant Energy to abandon the site.

Because the St. Charles plant will run on natural gas rather than coal, Segner said, it will be 50 to 100 times cleaner than the coal plants that supply most of Maryland's electricity. About 75 percent of electricity in the Washington region is supplied by coal plants, which produce pollutants that are released into the air or captured by emission-control devices.

The St. Charles plant will be among the top 15 cleanest plants in the country and more like projects found in environmentally friendly California rather than the East Coast, Segner said.

"The air-quality conditions will be several hundred times better than most plants'," she said.

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