From the first time they heard that an electrical power generation plant was going in, some folks living near the old Pine Products Company on Lamonta Road just knew their world was going to fall apart. Now, after hearing some of the testing that's been going on, they are sure; the power generating plant is generating a lot more than just electrical power.
>Testing the equipment has been noisy, a point that brought a lot of complaints from neighbors ... but that noise will be a thing of the past, once the plant is up and running according to company officials
During the earliest stages of the state's permitting process, a number of those living in the area petitioned against the project. Since then, whenever the gas-fired steam boiler has been fired up, plant owner Ron Rhoden said he's received numerous complaining phone calls. But these, he said, are from people who just don't understand what is going on.
"It (the start-up of the boiler) is loud," he quickly admits. "But people who live near here, who used to work at the old Pine Products mill, a lot of them have lived here forever, they haven't said a word." It is the newcomers to the area, those who don't remember hearing all the noise the old mill used to generate, who he believes are complaining.
But even those neighbors won't have anything to complain about soon.
The generation plant has replaced the mill's old wood fired boilers in the mill's power plant with natural gas fired equipment. Back when the mill was in operation, wood chips and scraps fired the boiler, generating the steam that powered much of the mill's operation. That, Rhoden recalled, was a very noisy, 24-hour a day process.
When the new generation plant is up and running, it will also be a 24-hour operation, albeit a silent one. Electricity generated will be sold when it's operating. Once the plant is up and running, Rhoden said, "they won't hear a thing. Starting up, it sounds line a jet taking off. And I feel for these people - but once it's up and running, you'll be able to hear a pin drop out there."
Rhoden said the company has put $1.5 million into refurbishing and replacing the generation equipment. It was while everything was being tested that people heard the noise.
Testing everything has taken some time, and each step along the way has been carefully monitored. "Each test phase over the start-up period has been noisy," plant superintendent Red Lougen said. "You start with cold pipes and the temperature has to be brought up slowly. The steam has to build to a certain temperature and a certain pressure. You can't have one drop of moisture in there. When the steam is right, it's dry steam. There's not one bit of moisture."
And to reach that point takes a couple hours. Hours that sound like a jet plane taking off. Once the plant is running, though, there is no sound.
Another factor is that there is little water loss, when the generation plant is operating. Close to 90 percent of the steam is condensed back into water and recycled through the boiler again. Rhoden calls it a closed loop system. Once the steam produces the power to run the 5 megawatt generator, it is sent through exhaust condensers and turned back to water. "What little steam you'll see coming from the stack will be dry steam," he said, "there is very little moisture in it."
Running, the entire operation is automatic. Only if there is an interruption in the natural gas feed would the plant automatically shut down. And then the start-up process would have to start all over again. But when the turbine is online, "you'll never hear it running," Rhoden said with great assurance.
And that might happen within the next week or so. The test phase is over and the plant is in the start up period. "We're waiting for Pacific Power to throw the switch up at the station near the airport. Then we'll be put on line and the electricity will be used here, locally, or wheeled to northern California or wherever," Rhoden said.
Electricity, like water, seeks the path of least resistance, he explained. And from the transmission station near the airport that means power will flow back downtown to Kilowatt Field.
"In times of high power use, some communities experience rolling brown outs. Bend may have a brown-out, Redmond may have a brown-out, but once we're operational, Prineville will never have a brown-out. That electricity will serve Prineville," Rhoden explained
Even with the complaints of noise, Rhoden said for the most part people have been understanding. Even the Oregon Department of Environmental inspectors have been, in his words, "excellent. Any one who has called DEQ to complain has had it all explained to them. They've been great to work with."
Both Rhoden and Lougen are anxious to get the plant up and running. And both say they will be happy, once it is operational, to give anyone a tour; to show how clean and quiet it really is.
Rhoden said once its online, anyone is welcome to call the office, 447-7868, and set up an appointment for a tour.