'Green' Energy Plant Proposed for Loudoun

By Tara Bahrampour
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, March 5, 2009

Loudoun County would be powered by electricity generated in its back yard under a proposal to build an $813 million plant using natural gas, steam and solar energy.

Green Energy Partners is proposing to build the facility on 80 acres just east of Leesburg, on property with two existing natural gas lines. To create the steam, the plant would use up to 5 million gallons a day of treated wastewater it would purchase from Leesburg. The treated water is now discharged into the Potomac River.

John Andrews, who co-owns the company with his father, said it plans to sell the energy wholesale to Dominion Virginia Power and Northern Virginia Electric Cooperative, the two utilities that provide service to Loudoun consumers.

Company officials said that if the project is approved by federal, state and county officials, Loudoun will be consuming electricity that is produced within the county for the first time.

"There is no energy production of any sort in Loudoun County that I'm aware of, except for individuals with solar panels on their homes," said Charlie Jackson, a spokesman for Green Energy Partners. The plant would use no diesel fuel, he said.

Andrews said the hybrid facility would be "the lowest emitting plant in the state of Virginia."

Green Energy Partners applied to the county Friday for permission to build the plant. It is part of a larger project that includes a business park the company hopes to open on adjacent property.

The plant would generate 300 megawatts of energy from natural gas, 300 megawatts from steam and one megawatt from solar energy. Two gas turbines could produce an additional 300 megawatts during peak demand times, company officials said.

Andrews said he expects the plant would produce enough energy to power Loudoun County and possibly enough to sell to neighboring counties.

Judi Birkitt, the senior county planner assigned to review the project, said the review has not begun. But Andrews said the idea, which is similar to models used in some European countries, has drawn positive reactions in informal discussions with county and town officials.

"We need energy, and either you import it or you produce it -- and we believe the best way is to produce it," he said, adding that the proposed hybrid system is less polluting than coal and more realistic than other "clean energy" solutions.

"We didn't see Loudoun County agreeing to windmill farms, and the sun doesn't shine enough for us to be able to run our energy on solar, so this is the next best alternative," he said.

Najib Salehi, energy manager for the county, hailed the idea, saying it would probably save money for the county and Leesburg.

"I think it's a very good proposal," he said, adding that the county is constantly looking for ways to cut energy costs, down to the level of turning off computers and vending machines at night.

Leesburg Town Manager John Wells said he had not had a chance to study the proposal. Andrews said that if town officials decide not to sell wastewater for the project, he would look at other options.

If the county approves the project, the company would need to apply for state and federal permits. The approval process is expected to take a year, followed by two to three years for construction of the plant, company officials said.

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