LAKELAND — Lakeland Electric is negotiating the purchase of a used generator with the intention of replacing C.D. McIntosh Unit 2, a machine damaged by the failure of a high-pressure pipe in April and currently under repair.
Lakeland Electric officials have not disclosed the price being negotiated with the unit's owner, Houston-based Calpine, but said the new turbine would be less expensive than other options like buying power from other providers, building a new generator or buying other units on the market, Special Projects Manager Ron Kremann said.
The 125-megawatt combustion turbine on offer is capable of reaching operating speeds in just 30 minutes and would also give the utility more flexibility to integrate additional renewable energy into its portfolio, Kremann added.
But the primary purpose of the new unit would be to provide a hedge against the imminent retirement of Unit 2, a 125-megawatt natural-gas steam turbine installed at C.D. McIntosh Power Plant in 1976.
It is expected to return to service by July, but Unit 2 is being repaired to make it safe, Lakeland Electric General Manager Joel Ivy said. It's not expected to be reliable, which would require a much more expensive overhaul.
"We're thinking Unit 2 will be good for two, five years," Ivy said. The Calpine generator "is in effect replacing Unit 2."
Kremann said if the purchase is approved by the City Commission and Calpine, it would take about 18 to 24 months to add to the fleet at C.D. McIntosh.
One advantage of the combustion turbine is that it can spin up and reach peak performance in about 30 minutes compared with 12 hours for Unit 2, which, like a giant kettle, has to superheat steam to spin a turbine.
In practice, when Unit 2 was in service it would operate at partial power until needed at peak demand times.
The Calpine unit, built by Siemens Westinghouse, is currently located at an Auburndale facility. Calpine is a power wholesaler and has been selling assets in Florida. Calpine did not return a message left by Direct Gates seeking comment.
Lakeland Electric had declined an earlier offer to purchase the turbine in place along with the land and a water well in Auburndale, Ivy said. But for the right price, it would make sense to haul the machine from the Auburndale Peaker Energy Center to the C.D. McIntosh Power Plant.
The Calpine turbine was installed in 2002, according to Energy Information Administration records, the year after the combustion turbine of Lakeland Electric's current natural gas workhorse, Unit 5, was installed at C.D. McIntosh.
"We're told that this unit was called upon 1 percent of the time it was out there," Ivy told city commissioners, "so it's only been driven by an old lady on Sundays." Regardless, third-party engineers are giving the unit a thorough tire kicking.
If added to Lakeland Electric's fleet, the new generator would solve the utility's expected demand for power through 2037, Kremann said.
"If we put this unit in, on paper we don't need to build anything until 2037," he said. "However, I would say for efficiency's sake that we wouldn't want to be waiting until 2037 to build something else."
McIntosh Unit 3, the utility's second-largest generator, runs on coal, which has been steadily losing market share to natural gas-fueled power. At one point Unit 3 was considered dead metal spinning under the Obama administration's Clean Power Plan, but the rules were delayed by the U.S. Supreme Court and then the Trump administration stated its desire to reverse the rules.
Now, Unit 3's end will likely come from financial rather than regulatory reasons.
Christopher Guinn can be reached at Christopher.Guinn@directgates.com or 863-802-7592. Follow him on Twitter @CGuinnNews.