Seven months ago Larry Hansen held his new baby granddaughter for the first time. Yesterday, he announced the groundbreaking of Lodi’s new energy center. The Lodi city councilman was hard-pressed to decide which moment was more precious.
As a chairman of the Northern California Power Agency, the nonprofit organization in charge of the plant, Hansen has watched this project grow from its initial inception six years ago. He said the Lodi Energy Center will create new jobs; provide clean, cheaper and more reliable energy to Lodians; beneficially utilize Lodi’s sewage treatment water; and add a steady stream of funding to the city.
“This project will raise the bar for economic and environmental projects in California,” said James Pope, general manager of the NCPA.
The groundbreaking ceremony took place Monday morning on the future site of the natural gas-fired power plant, 4.4 acres located just down the road from Lodi’s wastewater treatment facility. After 2 1/2 years of filing paperwork and conducting studies, the Lodi Energy Center has finally become a reality.
The mayor of Lodi, Phil Katzakian, and Rep. Jerry McNerney, D-Pleasanton, along with four other speakers, praised the plant for its efficiency and its predicted effect on the local economy.
The LEC will provide an initial influx of up to 175 construction jobs for the timespan of two years, and nine permanent positions thereafter. Though Lodi residents are not guaranteed slots on the payroll, a clause in the NCPA contract guarantees the plant’s workforce will come from applicants living within a 50-mile radius.
Whether the plant will lower the unemployment rate in Lodi remains to be seen, but it has already generated an initial $1 million in sales tax revenue for the city and promises to bring in an additional $1 million in yearly revenue.
“(The LEC is) a very bright light in a very dim time,” said Jeffrey Byron, commissioner of the California Energy Commission.
The sales tax money is earmarked for city maintenance that previously lacked funding. Fire Station 2 will get a new roof, as will the council chamber, and both the Lodi Public Safety Building and police station are scheduled for renovation.
But building the power plant doesn’t just pad the city’s pocketbook — it’s a major step in the right direction environmentally. Once constructed, Lodi’s plant will be the most efficient in Northern California.
The plant will operate with fast-start, fast-stop technology. Normal power plants generally never shut down, because the warm-up time is too lengthy and produces too much pollution. Cutting-edge components allow the LEC to acutely respond to the power needs of its consumers. It can shut down at night when a city’s energy demands are lower.
But while the technology is advanced and natural gas is one of the cleanest fossil fuels, the LEC will not be 100-percent spotless. Combustion of natural gas spews nitrous oxide into the air, a chemical that causes smog and acid rain.
Ken Speer, the assistant general manager of NCPA, is unconcerned. He said Lodi’s plant will only emit nitrous oxide in about 2 parts per million; in contrast, the state limit is 7 parts per million and a coal powered plant gives off a whopping 400 parts per million.
The LEC is an efficient source of energy, even when it comes to nitrous oxide, but the plant isn’t the only one breaking ground — it’s one of 75 that the California Energy Commission has approved since deregulation in 1998, said Michele Demetras, a spokeswoman for the commission. Of those, 45 are in operation.
Despite a controversial labor agreement said to favor union workers over non-union workers during the bidding process, construction for the Lodi Energy Center is expected to start on July 19 and should be completed in about two years. So by the time Hansen’s granddaughter has toddled off to her first day of preschool, the LEC will have generated its first megawatts.
Hansen will be so proud.
Contact reporter Mollie Bloudoff-Indelicato at email@example.com.