Gas plant should be online in about three months, Duke says

In just about three months, Duke Energy anticipates bringing the first 820 megawatts online at its new combined-cycle natural gas plant.

The second 820 megawatts are expected to start flowing in December.

Land-clearing operations began in October 2015 and the formal groundbreaking was March 2, 2016.

Duke spokeswoman Heather Danenhower provided the Chronicle with a snapshot of the status of operations at the plant and what it means for consumers.

What is the status of the new Citrus plant?

Duke Energy’s new 1,640-megawatt Citrus combined-cycle natural gas plant is about 92 percent complete.

How many customers will this plant affect?

Duke Energy has 1.8 million customers in a 13,000-square-mile service area spanning 35 counties from Highlands County to the Florida Panhandle. Duke  has 46,843 customers in Citrus County and 65,803 in nearby Marion County.

Why is Duke Energy building a new natural gas plant?

The new plant will replace generation from plant retirements, including two 1960s-era coal-fired units.

Danenhower said combined-cycle natural gas units produce energy more efficiently and release lower emissions than coal-fired units. Sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides and other emissions are expected to drop by 90 percent in comparison to the operation at Crystal River coal-fired units 1 and 2.

Duke Energy will retire the coal-fired units — representing half of the company’s coal-fired fleet in Florida — when the new plant starts serving customers later this year.

What are workers doing right now?

Crews are working to test and start up systems for the first time and preparing to start flowing natural gas from Sabal Trail’s onsite metering and regulating station to the power blocks.

This marks the first step toward firing up the plant’s engines — called combustion turbine generators — for the first time later this summer.

Starting the plant’s engines, called a first fire, is a routine but important  milestone needed to bring the two power blocks online by the end of the year.

How many workers are at the site?

The Citrus project currently has about 1,800 workers. During the height of construction, the project employed about 2,800 workers. Employee numbers fluctuate depending on each day’s work scope, and staffing will continue to decline as construction milestones are met.

Once construction is complete, 50 to 75 workers will be needed to operate and maintain the plant.

How is the project benefiting the local community?

Construction and related activities are expected to have an area economic benefit of more than $600 million during construction and $13 million annually in direct and indirect economic benefits during the operational life of the plant, Danenhower said.

She said the project has benefited more than 100 companies locally, in Florida, across the U.S. and around the world.

Any local companies involved?

Nuts, bolts and lubricants came from companies in Crystal River; waste disposal services from a company in Inverness; companies in Homosassa and Tampa supplied the concrete.

How does the plant work?

Combined-cycle technology uses two processes.

The first includes a combustion turbine that operates like a jet engine that draws in outside air and compresses it to a high pressure. The pressurized air mixes with natural gas and is then burned, creating hot exhaust gases. These gases power the combustion turbine, spin a generator and ultimately make energy.

The second process sends the hot exhaust gases from the combustion turbine to a heat recovery steam generator. This system captures the heat from the hot exhaust gases to produce steam. This steam then goes to a steam turbine that rotates another generator and makes more energy.

Is there a video available that shows how this works?

Yes. Check this out:

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