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A small cogeneration power plant being built here is nearing completion a little ahead of schedule.

Test firing of the 50-megawatt power plant that will burn piles of waste coal is expected to begin about mid-November.Commercial operations are expected to begin in April, about three months ahead of schedule.

David Ambruster, manager of human resources development for Tampella Power, Williamsport, Pa., spent part of last week at the Job Service office in Price interviewing prospective employees. He also gave a short update on the plant's progress to members of the Carbon County Chamber of Commerce who met in Price.

He said 32 people will be needed to operate the plant and as many as possible will come from the local area.

During construction, as many as 200 have been employed by The Industrial Co., a general industrial contractor based in Colorado Springs, he said.

The companies building the plant, Environmental Power Corp. and its wholly owned subsidiary, Sunnyside Cogeneration Associates, estimate there is enough coal left from previous mining operations to fuel the plant for about 25 years.

Improved technology, including the circulating fluid bed steam generator, will enable the plant to burn poor quality coal and still meet environmental standards. The need for scrubbers is eliminated although the coal, discarded when mined, is higher in sulfur and has a lower BTU rating than coal used by large steam generating power plants.

A spokesman for the company said the technology has been around for about 10 years, but it is becoming increasingly popular.

Power produced will be sold to Utah Power.

Ambruster told chamber of commerce members that Utah Power can use the power because from time to time some of its generating facilities are taken out of service or need rebuilding or repairing.

Although no use will be made of the steam except for generating power, the plant still qualifies as a cogeneration plant, Ambruster said. Previously announced plans by another company to use steam to heat greenhouses to grow tomatoes and other crops have been abandoned.

Ambruster said he didn't know why the greenhouse plan was scuttled.

Tampella Power, which operates similar plants in Pennsylvania, Illinois, Iowa and Montana, has signed a contract to operate the plant for at least 10 years.

Plant construction began in June 1991, and Carbon County issued industrial revenue bonds to help finance the project.