Friday, July 20, 2007

Plan for power plant unveiled

The $1.5 billion Wiscasset project would create clean fuel, backers
say, but it faces obstacles.

By GREGORY D. KESICH, Staff Writer July 20, 2007

Plans for what could be the most expensive commercial
construction project in state history were unveiled in Wiscasset
this week, raising the possibility that Maine could become one of
the first sites in the world for a revolutionary and controversial
type of power plant.

The $1.5 billion Twin River Energy Center would turn coal and
wood biomass into clean gas that would fire a 700-megawatt
generator, producing what promoters say would be low-cost
energy. The plant also would produce "ultra-clean diesel" that
would reduce the tailpipe emissions that contribute to acid rain,
air pollution and global warming.

Twin River is a subsidiary of National RE/sources, a real estate
development company based in Connecticut that owns the
former Maine Yankee site. The 11-year-old company has
acquired and redeveloped $1 billion in industrial properties,
projects ranging from closing old power plants and cleaning up
the Hudson River to removing asphalt plants and remediating
major drinking-water aquifers, according to the company.

The Wiscasset proposal dwarfs all other major construction
projects now under consideration in Maine, and would have a
major economic influence on Wiscasset and the midcoast region,
still smarting from the loss of the Maine Yankee nuclear power
plant. The plan's backers estimate that it would create 750
annual jobs during the four-year construction phase and 200
good-paying, full-time jobs when it is up and running.

The proposal faces major obstacles, however, including
extensive permitting processes, financing questions, the
selection of a corporate energy partner and some environmental
criticism that already has emerged. These critics say that even
though it would produce clean fuel, the new technology has no
method for disposing of carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas that
will be released into the air from the plant's smokestack.

Backers have not identified where the money for the massive
project will come from or which energy company would operate
it, though they said those discussions are taking place. A Twin
River representative says all those questions will be answered in
time for the start of construction in 2009.

The proposal received the unanimous approval Tuesday of the
Wiscasset Board of Selectmen. It will be the subject of a public
informational meeting at 6 p.m. Tuesday at Wiscasset High
School, then will be reviewed by the town Planning Board.

Although no formal application has been filed, Twin River
representatives have met with the heads of state agencies, who
say that based on the information they have so far, the proposal
is promising.

"In theory, this should be an extraordinarily clean plant," said
David Littell, commissioner of the Department of Environmental
Protection. "This is the type of coal plant that we have been
saying should be built."

Based on the presentation from the company, Littell said the
plant would be able to remove sulfur from the coal before it is
burned and sell it as a commodity. The diesel fuel it would
produce would be much cleaner than what is currently available
on the market, and if sold locally, would reduce the emissions of
existing vehicles and also permit expansion of the use of diesel
passenger cars.

Littell said he was assured that the plant would meet Maine's
mercury emissions cap, which is the toughest in the country, but
he cautioned that there has been no investigation into any of the
company's claims yet. That will take place during the regulatory

"We are going to apply the laws of our state," Littell said.
"Everything in the promotional presentation will have to be
proven in the application process."

Twin River project manager Scott Houldin said land on the 430-
acre parcel is perfect for this development because its deep
water and rail access would facilitate the delivery of coal.
Existing power transmission lines on the site would reduce the
necessary infrastructure investment that would be needed to
distribute the electricity generated.

Even so, the project would be extremely expensive by Maine
standards. For instance, a proposed hotel-and-office-building
development for the Maine State Pier in Portland is projected to
cost $125 million, less than 10 percent of the Twin River's
proposed cost.

Houldin said the company has adequate financing to carry it
through the anticipated two-year permitting process. Before
construction, it would partner with an energy company, which
would finance the construction.

Houldin said there have been negotiations with potential
partners, but everyone is waiting to see what the town of
Wiscasset will decide. He declined to name the companies.

The plant would also be able to supplement coal with wood-
waste products to produce both gas and diesel, but coal would
be the primary fuel source. Houldin cautioned the public not to
confuse the new technology with other coal-burning power

"But this is not your grandfather's coal plant," he said. "We do
not burn coal. We gasify it."

If built, the plant would superheat the fuel source under high
pressure, creating a synthetic gas. The process removes 99.9
percent of the sulfur and 99.9 percent of the particulate matter.
Then it goes through a process to remove carbon dioxide, the
greenhouse gas that contributes to global warming.

What happens next is the problem for environmentalists, said
Steve Hinchman, staff attorney for the Conservation Law

The removed gas would be released into the air through the
plant's smokestack because the industry has no method to
dispose of it any other way.

Hinchman said the company deserves credit for producing
clean-burning fuels, but until officials can explain how they will
dispose of the greenhouse gasses, they are just exchanging one
dirty fuel for another.

"That's the Achilles heel of this whole thing," Hinchman said.
"They still have the carbon beast to tame, and they just don't do

Houldin said the critique is unfair. Even with the release of the
carbon dioxide, the plant still would meet the toughest
regulations in the country. Also, the plant would have the ability
to filter out and dispose of the gas, if the technology is
developed, unlike other types of power plants.

The plant would have the capacity to produce 700 megawatts of
power, compared with Maine Yankee's capacity of 865
megawatts. The plant would represent a 20 percent increase in
Maine's power production, which is already well ahead of the
state's consumption, said Public Utility Commission Chairman
Kurt Adams.

The project has the opportunity to sell low-cost power locally,
said Maine Economic Development Commissioner John

Other sites in Maine have created "energy parks" where low-cost
power is sold to local businesses, making them more
competitive outside the state, Richardson said, and that is an
option with Twin River.

"We need to be smart and strategize about our energy
resources," Richardson said. "We need to consider how a plant
could feed a cluster of businesses that surround it."

For right now, however, Twin River's proposal is before the
residents of Wiscasset, not state agencies, Richardson said.

"The state will sit back and wait for a local decision," he said.
"The state supports the need for public input and local control."

Staff Writer Gregory D. Kesich can be contacted at 791-6336 or

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