Hundreds drive past the NRG Energy Center on West North Street every day, and it's generally ignored by all of them. The plant, sandwiched between the Kraft Foods and Proctor and Gamble complexes, looks to be a part of both.
Well, it is and it isn't.
The NRG center provides steam and power to both manufacturing plants, but it also supplies electric energy to the power grid that services Delmarva and other points on the East Coast. Now, thanks to a $25 million upgrade, it's doing an even better job and producing significantly less pollution.
State and local officials, including Gov. Jack Markell and Delaware's entire congressional delegation were on hand July 26 to unveil the newly-retooled plant.
NRG started work in April 2012 to convert the plant from a facility that used coal to one that burns natural gas. The company received a $500,000 grant from the Delaware Energy Efficiency Investment Fund that helps companies reduce energy use and improve the environment while creating or retaining local jobs.
The work created the opportunity for up to 75 construction jobs over the past year; there are 18 people permanently employed at the site.
The work involved removing a coal-fired steam burner and replacing it with a natural gas-fueled system. As the natural gas is burned, the heated air is channeled to a turbine, which in turn runs an electricity-producing generator. Hot gases from that turbine are then routed to a steam turbine and generator, which creates additional electricity. Some of the steam is channeled to the Kraft and Proctor and Gamble plants to run processing equipment and to heat workspaces.
Operations from the renovated plant began in June.
Part of the decision to swap out the former coal-fired generation system was an economic one, said Dennis Platterer, NRG's managing director for thermal projects. The price of the type of coal formerly used at the plant has been increasing, making it more expensive to run the Dover facility, he said. The company also saved a considerable amount of money by reusing as much of the existing system as possible instead of purchasing entirely new equipment.
Renovating the plant is part of Markell's push toward both cleaning up Delaware's environment and protecting jobs.
"NRG has reduced energy consumption and operating costs while at the same time significantly improving environmental performance," the governor said. "This in turn helps the economic competitiveness for Dover and all of Kent County, which is just tremendous, and it provides a very significant improvement in air quality for the people of the area."
DNREC Secretary Collin O'Mara said this project was noteworthy not just because the plant is now more efficient but because of the cooperation between government and private industry.
Page 2 of 2 - "This didn't begin with a big, knock-down, drag-out regulatory fight," O'Mara said, noting NRG's former regional president had brought up the idea of transforming the Dover plant even before government officials did.
"The cost of natural gas, the emission reductions, the avoidance of a regulatory fight really made it work," he said.
With the completion of work in Dover, only one of the electricity-generating plants in the state still uses coal. That facility, the Indian River power plant also is owned by NRG, and underwent $360 million in upgrades that were completed in 2012, making it one of the cleanest coal plants in the nation.