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Dormant plant may power up

‘Preliminary work’ being done at the site; owner Invenergy mum on specifics

NELSON – Plans to bring to life a decade-old power plant, built but never used, seem to be gaining steam.

Owner Invenergy had considered converting the abandoned facility into an ethanol and electrical power plant. More than a year ago, it dropped the ethanol portion and said it plans a natural gas-fired electrical power plant instead.

The only problem: finding a customer to buy the power.

“Invenergy is actively seeking a power marketing agreement in order to complete construction of the plant,” the company said in a June 2011 statement.

“There is a staff presence at Nelson to maintain the facility in anticipation of future operations.”

Now there seems to be new movement afoot.

John Thompson, CEO of the Dixon Chamber of Commerce and Lee County Industrial Development, and Jeff Veazie, manager of business development for Invenergy, went to the Sept. 19 Rock Falls High School District board meeting to talk about the project and the district’s role in Lee County Enterprise Zone incentives. The plant is in the enterprise zone.

Although no customer has been found, an improving economy and a growing demand for energy in general has put a new spark in Invenergy’s plans.

“There’s some momentum,” Veazie said. “Market conditions right now are more favorable than they’ve ever been for the plant.”

A final plan is not yet certain, but “we’ve started some preliminary work at the site to be prepared to finish construction timely,” Veazie said.

“We’re hoping that sometime soon, maybe the next 6 months, we’re able to know for certain what the configuration and specific time frame is.”

A call to Invenergy requesting more details was met with an emailed response:

“Our plans for Nelson are in the early stages; therefore, a construction completion timeline is undetermined,” the statement read. “We look forward to announcing developments in the future.”

NRG Energy broke ground on the power plant 11 years ago, but went into bankruptcy before it was finished. Invenergy bought the 165-acre lot at 1311 Nelson Road in 2006, and has been “waiting for market conditions to make it feasible to continue construction and complete it,” Veazie said.

In June 2011, the Chicago company said it needed at least one customer before it could open. Are there customers now? a school board member asked.

“There’s a number of configurations that we can sell the power through, with Illinois being a deregulated market, you can have purchase agreements or spot markets,” Veazie said. “That’s one of the considerations we are looking at now, and we have a few options. That’s why we don’t have more details right now.”

Although he acknowledged that the question of a market for the power remains, Thompson still has hope that the project will come to fruition. A running power plant will bring “technical jobs, good-paying jobs with good benefits,” he said.

“Someone was building the facility because they thought they could sell power,” he said. “It continues to be the final question: What are we going to spend to complete the project? Can we sell power at a profit?”

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