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Gas transportation system key to boosting power sector's gas use: Oglethorpe


A US Environmental Protection Agency proposal to increase the capacity factor of natural gas-fired combined-cycle power plants to 70% by 2030 is "doable," but only if the country's gas transportation system is strengthened, officials with a large Georgia generation and transmission cooperative said Wednesday.

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Oglethorpe Power, which supplies wholesale power to 38 electric cooperatives in the state, could comply with language in EPA's June proposal to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from the generation sector 30% below 2005's level by 2030 in part by increasing the use of gas-fired units to the 70% level, CEO Mike Smith said in a second-quarter earnings call.

But Smith said transitioning to an era when combined-cycle units provide much of the nation's baseload power would require a significant expansion of the existing network of gas pipelines.

EPA's proposed rule is "very bullish" on natural gas and would put the fuel into a "very dominant" position in utility and co-op generation portfolios, Smith said. "The discomfort I have is that while we have been doing a very good job of finding natural gas ... is gas transportation infrastructure going to keep up with the increasing need?"

Smith also said he is concerned about the possibility that federal regulators will "go after fracking" and limit the technology that has been behind the boom in US gas production.

In the first half of this year the capacity factor for Oglethorpe's two wholly owned combined-cycle units -- the 458-MW Chattahoochee station and the 1,240-MW Thomas Smith facility -- was largely unchanged from the prior year. Chattahoochee's capacity factor in the first half of this year was 64%, up from 63% in the same period last year, while Thomas Smith's capacity factor fell to 16% from 20%. The capacity factor of both facilities would likely rise under EPA's Clean Power Plan.

The capacity factor is the ratio of a plant's actual power to its poential output if it ran at full capacity continuously.

--Housley Carr,
--Edited by Jeff Barber,