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Another unit at power plant?

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Utah Power says it needs to add generation this summer at its Gadsby Power Plant in Salt Lake City, but other power entities say the utility has additional options it should consider.

The state Public Service Commission heard various arguments about the new-generation proposal for the plant at a Thursday hearing and is expected to decide by next week whether to give the utility the go-ahead for construction.

Utah Power wants the decision made quickly in order to add three 40-megawatt turbines — fast-starting, efficient jet engines — at gas-fired Gadsby by summer.

The plant is a "peaker" facility, used to generate power during high-demand periods. Adding 120 megawatts — enough to power about 60,000 typical homes — will help the company meet an expected energy shortfall this summer. The plant currently has a capacity of 235 megawatts.

But Thursday's hearing started with a plea from several entities wanting to become parties to the Gadsby case. Their representatives said they have or will have generation available that Utah Power could buy.

Deseret Power has 65 megawatts from a Tooele County facility, Pioneer Power soon will build generation and Magnesium Corporation of America has 35 megawatts now, although that facility could be expanded to 150 megawatts, representatives said.

"It appears Utah Power wants to build all the generation in the state and ignore all the other options available to them," said Lee Brown, a Magcorp vice president.

"It's obviously not accurate," Utah Power attorney Edward Hunter responded. Hunter said Utah Power will be in contact with those companies later because Utah Power's generation needs won't be met by the Gadsby plant expansion alone.

Hunter called the situation "ironic" because in the utility's most recent rate case, critics harped that Utah Power had failed in recent years to build enough generation.

The commission decided to let the entities be parties to the case but with limitations. Many of the issues they raised Thursday may be presented later, when the commission will consider whether Utah Power has made the right choice in opting for more Gadsby power and how the company would recover the expected $80 million cost for the project.

Others at the hearing, however, recommended having the Gadsby project move forward, and quickly. Testimony from representatives of the state Division of Public Utilities and Committee of Consumer Services said delaying the project would hurt Utah Power customers. Without the project, they said, customers would face probable higher costs whenever the company ventures onto the open market to buy power it needs during peak-demand periods.

Utah Power officials said the new units probably would be ready by early September, but the company is hoping to have them ready as soon as possible, perhaps mid-July.

Cheryl Murray, utility analyst for the consumer committee, said Utah Power — not ratepayers — should bear the risk of extra costs of buying power and of construction delays if the new units aren't ready by summer.

Division and committee representatives agreed with the utility's claim that it has a generation shortfall. Janet Morrison, PacifiCorp's director of resource planning, said a recent study indicates Utah Power will be 439 megawatts short during peak periods this summer and 1,262 megawatts short in the summer of 2009.

The new units would be permanent. Last summer, the company leased five temporary gas-fired turbines at Gadsby to boost capacity by 100 megawatts. Most of the plant's power is used along the Wasatch Front, and the project would require no changes to transmission.

Speaking against the project was Darren Menlove of J-J BAKD, which operates the VIP Residential Community and a campground near the plant. Menlove complained about an ongoing odor problem he said is being caused by Crown Asphalt, which leases the Gadsby tank farm.

Menlove said he is unsure if the new-generation project would add any odor or noise at the plant. "But we want this problem corrected before there is any more power generation added," he said.

Hunter said the company will respond to his comments.


E-MAIL: bwallace@desnews.com