WASHINGTON – Maryland has seen a boom in applications for new or expanded power plants since deregulation, despite predictions that suppliers would shun the state and its low-cost energy prices.
Four large plants and five smaller plants have been approved, proposed or are in the permitting process, said Paul Dunbar of the Maryland Power Plant Research Program. The new plants have the potential to supply up to about 4,000 megawatts of power in the next few years, increasing the state’s current generating capacity by one-third.
A 10th application is in the system seeking a 740-megawatt expansion of a Montgomery County plant. A megawatt can supply power to about 1,000 homes.
Dunbar said that, with deregulation, utilities no longer have to demonstrate a need for electrical power in the state to win construction permit approval. That has allowed “merchant” power plant owners to build plants that could supply power to other states in the region, where prices are higher.
The rush to build merchant power plants has raised concerns among some that Maryland will get all the environmental impact of the plants with none of the benefits. But others, including the state chapter of the Sierra Club, said new, Clean Air Act compliant power plants can be an overall benefit to the environment.
The Sierra Club is in favor of new plants and “hopeful that old, funky, coal” plants will be retired, said Charlie Garlow, chairman of the committee on air and energy issues for the state chapter.
Others disagree, arguing that the sites chosen for new plants often are located in environmentally sensitive areas.
“No power plant should go uncontested,” said Millie Kriemelmeyer, president of the Maryland Conservation Council.
But Dunbar said that both air and water quality are taken into account by Maryland’s “smart siting” program. That program, implemented in 1996, maps the availability of fuel, water for cooling, and nearby transmission lines, as well as the air quality and health of surrounding streams to determine the best location for power plants, he said.
That program may be part of the lure for plant developers, he said, who benefit financially from a quicker, more streamlined process.
Duke Energy uses projected power needs as the major factor in the location of new plants, said spokeswoman Kate Perez. But when it proposed a 620-megawatt plant near Point of Rocks in Frederick County, she said, it looked to available infrastructure, property, water and a power plant-friendly community to determine the actual plant site.
Dave Penn, executive vice president of the American Public Power Association, said “there definitely are” states, like Maryland, that are more generator-friendly than others. Economic factors usually dictate where plants are located in a deregulated, free-market environment, Penn said.
But he added that a history of strong environmental or growth-based opposition to power plant construction could make a state less attractive to new power plant construction.
Although power plants were originally located near cities, Penn said that improvements in transmission technology in the 1940s and 1950s allowed them to be built farther away. That was true in Maryland, as elsewhere, but there is a push now to build smaller plants where the power is needed, or where resources are available, he said.
Applications are on file to build a 2-megawatt power plant in Baltimore’s Inner Harbor and a 22-megawatt plant at the University of Maryland, College Park. An application has been filed to expand a plant powered by methane gas from the Brown Station Road landfill in Prince George’s County, and another is on file for a plant fueled by chicken litter at Allen Family Foods in the Dorchester County community of Hurlock.
Regardless of the number of plants built, industry experts say that California-style rolling blackouts are unlikely in Maryland. The Mid-Atlantic Area Council, a regional power organization, projects that the area will have a power reserve margin of about 17 percent this summer, and the power industry projects no supply problems for the next five to 10 years.