L-154’s David Campbell seal welds a seam on a turbine exhaust duct.

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Gas-fired generation continues growth in L-13 jurisdiction

L-154’s David Campbell seal welds a seam on a turbine exhaust duct.

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Lackawanna Energy Center will be one of Pennsylvania’s largest

ONE OF THE largest combined cycle, gas-fired power plants in Pennsylvania is under construction in the northeastern part of the state, and about 180 Boilermakers — members of Local 13 (Philadelphia) along with travelers from more than two dozen locals across the country — have a major piece of the work.

Located in the borough of Jessup, near Scranton, the Lackawanna Energy Center’s three gas-powered turbines, three heat recovery steam generators (HRSGs) and a steam turbine will produce 1,500 megawatts of electricity when completed in 2019. Boilermakers are constructing the HRSGs as well as upper sections of the air-cooled condensers and other project components.

Kiewit Power Constructors Co. is the prime contractor on the job, which is being built for Invenergy. At peak, some 800 union workers from various crafts will be onsite.

Kiewit Project Manager Jason Proskovec said the gas plant, the largest to be built by Kiewit to date, uses a unique single-shaft design by General Electric.

“Typically, we build what we call a two-on-one, so you have two gas turbines with two HRSGs that provide steam for one steam turbine,” he noted. “[The units at Lackawanna] have one single shaft, so both the combustion turbine and the steam turbine are coupled to the same generator.”

The single-shaft design increases reliability and simplifies operations, according to GE.

Proskovec said fuel for the plant will come from the Marcellus shale field via pipeline. The Marcellus field is one of the largest shale formations in the United States, extending across much of Ohio, West Virginia, Pennsylvania and New York.

“The Lackawanna project is emblematic of the shift that is happening in our nation’s energy sector away from coal to natural gas,” said L-13 Business Manager/Secretary-Treasurer Martin Williams. “The market, along with [other factors], is favoring natural gas as the dominant fuel source for power generation.” Natural gas-fired plants emit about half the carbon dioxide as coal-fired plants.

Williams said that the Lackawanna project is one of four combined cycle gas plants the lodge is currently helping to construct in Pennsylvania, and more such plants are on the horizon in the Keystone State.

Abundant, cheap natural gas has also spurred activity at area refineries where Local 13 members work. Refinery maintenance work accounts for about half of the lodge’s annual man-hours, he noted.

The implications of changing fuel source preferences are not lost on the Boilermakers union. Historically, coal-fired plants have dominated the union’s work in the power generation industry, both new construction and outages. Natural gas plants for the first time in U.S. history accounted for more power generation than coal plants in 2016.

According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, natural gas-fired generating capacity is set to grow by 36.6 gigawatts (GW) over 2017-2018. Together, coal and gas make up nearly two thirds of all electricity generation in the United States, with each fuel source accounting for about 31-32 percent of total U.S. output.

“[The shifting of fuel sources] has a very strong political dynamic to it and has caused a lot of anxiety,” said Williams. “I feel like Boilermakers are using this transition and this opportunity to create a new legacy. On this project and on other projects, through the application of our craftsmanship and our expertise, we are helping to power the region and the country for the rest of the 21st century. And the exciting thing is we are just getting started.”

Of course, that doesn’t mean Boilermakers are giving up on coal. Williams acknowledges that coal-fired power generation will continue to be an important source of Boilermaker work, and manning those jobs will remain a priority.

L-13 Business Agent Roger Jayne, the local’s key representative on the Lackawanna project, observed, “We just had three coal plants go down a week ago [due to unscheduled outages]. Coal is still there, and we certainly have to make sure that we’re ready to go when [coal plant owners] need us.”