Fifteen months after construction began, Washington Water Power Co.’s Rathdrum power plant is generating enough electricity to power 65,000 homes.
WWP has been testing the $66 million plant, fired by natural gas, since mid-November. After a last round of testing before Christmas, the plant went on line Monday.
On Tuesday, computer technicians pored over electronic graphs and charts in the control room. The twin turbines produce a rumbling and noise similar to a household furnace.
Outside, project developer Dana Zentz had to raise his voice to be heard. “We’re biased, obviously, but we don’t think it’s that obtrusive of a sound,” Zentz said.
WWP’s plans originally included a diesel tank for backup fuel. Neighbors and environmentalists objected, arguing that spilled diesel could soak into the Rathdrum Prairie-Spokane Valley aquifer.
In October 1993, the Idaho Public Utilities Commission agreed, saying it would allow the plant, but not the diesel. The commission also ordered the Spokane-based WWP to pay $15,145 to the Citizens’ Network for Responsible Growth to offset the group’s expenses fighting the plant.
Zentz said the site was chosen because it’s near the company’s Rathdrum electrical substation and a natural gas main. The 200-acre Boekel Road site also is part of a growing industrial area, he said.
The plant’s twin turbines, each about the size of a subcompact car, concentrate and burn 2 million cubic feet of natural gas per hour.
Under its permit, the plant is allowed to emit 15 parts per million of nitrogen oxides. Zentz said the plant has not registered more than 14.
The other main pollutant is carbon monoxide. The plant is allowed to emit 25 parts per million. Emissions average 2 to 4 parts per million, Zentz said.
“The quality of the air is good to begin with and it’s still good,” said Zentz. “We don’t see that we’re creating a hazard.”
The plant will run about 1,500 hours per year, said Zentz. Most of those hours, he said, will be during peak power demand in the hottest and coldest months.
The plant will also run during times - like now - when natural gas prices are low, Zentz said.
“For some reason, we’re seeing
very attractive natural gas prices right now,” he said.
With current prices, he said, the plant now generates power at slightly less than 2 cents per kilowatt-hour. By comparison, Zentz said, hydropower costs about 1 cents; and nuclear costs 3 to 5 cents. Power from coal-fired plants costs about 2 cents per kilowatt, he said.
The plant will be staffed by only one person, and part-time at that, Zentz said. The control room can be monitored - and controlled - from WWP’s Post Falls or Spokane offices.
MEMO: This is a sidebar that appeared with the story: Sources of power Washington Water Power gets about half its power from hydroelectric projects and another 40 percent from coal-fired plants and gas turbines. The company buys the remaining 10 percent wholesale from other power companies.