The Building Tradesman Newspaper

Friday, April 27, 2012

Appealing power plant seen as asset to Lansing’s REO Town

By Marty Mulcahy, Editor

LANSING – It may be hard to believe that a new power plant can be plunked down amid residences and business – and be welcomed by the neighbors as an asset to the community.

But that’s what’s happening in Lansing’s REO Town, an historic neighborhood on the city’s south side. The area has an industrial heritage, as home to production facilities of the REO (think Ransom Eli Olds) and Oldsmobile brands. REO Motor Co. produced cars and trucks in REO Town from 1906 until 1975. The area also has three distinct neighborhoods in its boundaries.

Now it’s getting a new power plant – and without a doubt it will be the nicest looking plants you will ever find. The Lansing Board of Water and Light (BWL), its contractors and the building trades, are undertaking construction of a $182 million, natural gas-fired power and steam generation facility that aesthetically, will be an instant classic.

“A lot of thought went into the plant’s design,” said Dick Peffley, the BWL’s executive director of water operations and special projects. “A lot of brick will be used so that it fits in the neighborhood. It’s going to look really nice.” He said the design will mitigate noise from the plant to the greatest extent possible, with the goal that pedestrians walking by can hold a conversation without raising their voices.

Construction began last year on the plant on a site that includes the city’s 110-year-old old train depot, which is being renovated as part of the project. (See related story below). The plant is slated to open in July 2013. The best news for the REO Town neighborhood: the project will include construction of an office building, with permanent space for some 180 BWL employees, which is hoped will be a catalyst for bringing back some life to an old neighborhood.

But the main purpose of the 102-megawatt plant is to produce power and steam. About 100 Hardhats are currently on the project, a manpower number which will peak at about 250 during the second half of this year.

“We are very happy with the tradespeople,” Peffley said. “I attend all the meetings with the trades and contractors to let them know that the owner is very interested in this process. We’re particularly proud that we’re in our 181st day of construction, with zero time lost due to accidents.”

There are three construction management firms on the project, all Lansing-based, and all are in charge of separate portions of the project. Christman Constructors is in charge of the main plant. Clark Construction is handling the steam lines. Granger is in charge of the depot renovation. Some portions of the project have yet to be let out for bids.

The REO Town project will be the BWL’s first natural gas-fired energy generation facility. Steam will also be created in the co-generation process, serving the BWL’s 225 steam customers in and near downtown Lansing. By using natural gas at the new facility, the BWL will avoid burning 139,000 tons of coal each year, reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 50 percent, compared to the BWL’s existing coal-fired plant, the Moore’s Park Steam Plant, which operates nearby. That plant will be shut down when the Reo Town Plant comes online.

When the new plant fires up, its steam will be pushed from the boilers to a pair of insulated 900-foot-long steam lines (there are two for redundancy) that will extend from the new plant and connect to an existing junction tapping into the existing system. Steam that is not used can be recycled and diverted to turn the 14-megawatt turbine.

The other advantages of using natural gas: in the near-term, at least, natural gas prices have hit their lowest point since 2002. The burgeoning process of hydraulic fracturing has resulted in a glut of natural gas on the market, which is helping to keep prices low.

And the new plant can be operated much more efficiently: Peffley said a natural gas-fired plant can go from zero-to-100 percent load in 8 minutes; a coal-fired plant needs eight hours. “We’ve been a coal company, but diversifying fuel use is important,” he said. “It’s helping reduce greenhouse emissions, and the lower price of gas has helped make this a very economical decision for us.”

The new plant will sit on a footprint of just under six acres at Washington and South Streets.  The highest portion of the plant will be six stories tall. The plant will sit on a concrete base five-to-eight feet thick. In February, caravans of concrete mixers deposited 7,000 cubic yards of concrete at the site. The power plant sits atop more than 900 “auger cast” pilings – the installation is quieter and vibration-free compared to pile driving. It’s a process similar to well drilling, with a vertical hole drilled about 45 feet into bedrock, following by insertion of a one-foot wide concrete column, or piling.

The Lansing Board of Water and Light has a history of building handsome power plants. Its former Ottawa Street Station, completed near the downtown area in 1939, is an art deco classic. The former coal-burning plant was redeveloped last year into the headquarters for the Accident Fund.

“The BWL has a proud history of stunning architectural aesthetics in its buildings. I believe this is very much in keeping with that history,” said BWL General Manager J. Peter Lark last year at the groundbreaking of the REO Town Plant. Early last month, when the first structural steel was placed, Lark said: “When completed, we believe the facility will be a transformational economic catalyst for this historic Lansing neighborhood, and a huge economic boost to the larger community as well.”

The community, Peffley said, has been extremely supportive of the plant.

Ron Junttonen, who owns Prosthetic Center Inc. on Washington Ave. across from the power plant site, said the REO Town neighborhood “has had its ups and downs over the years” – and he knows, having been at that location since 1987.

“It looks like they’re going to be putting up a nice, new modern building, and it’s going to bring a lot of workers to the neighborhood,” he said. “I’m also looking forward to the streetscaping they have planned. All in all I think it’s going to be a real shot in the arm for to the neighborhood.”

A RENDERING of the Lansing Board of Water and Light’s new REO Town gas-fired power plant. Utility offices at the front of the plant will bring 180 BWL employees to the neighborhood. Rendering by Studio (intrigue) Architects

ADJUSTING FLOOR DRAINS on the office building portion of the project are Scott Beglin and Jake Thornburg of Plumbers and Pipe Fitters Local 333, working for Northern Boiler.

SETTING UP A PICK in front of the power plant portion of the REO Town plant is Larry Lambaria of Iron Workers 25, working for Douglas Steel.