Southwestern Pennsylvania’s Greene County is expected to be the new home of a commercial-scale solar farm. The solar farm is just part of West Virginia-based Longview Power’s plan to bring cleaner electricity to West Virginia.
Longview Power has outlined its intention to diversify its electricity generation efforts, adding a massive solar array and a natural gas-fired plant to its existing coal-fired plant in Maidsville, W.Va. The solar array will consist of 180,000 individual solar panels, and will be located across the border from West Virginia in Greene County, Pa. The panels will be capable of generating 50 megawatts of power, which will be distributed to both and West Virginia consumers. While it is a sometimes assumed that Pennsylvania is not a good state for solar energy harvesting due to its often cloudy skies and long winters, those factors do not play as significant a role as one would think. Although sunny states such as California are the intuitive choice for solar, Pennsylvania is a viable state for solar harvesting.
Complementing the solar array is a new, low-emission, combined cycle natural gas power plant. This plant will utilize the abundance of natural gas from the Marcellus Shale basin and existing pipeline infrastructure. The plant will not be located in Pennsylvania, but rather next to Longview’s existing coal-fired plant in Maidsville. The new combined cycle plant will be capable of generating 1,200 megawatts of power.
Combined cycle gas turbine plants are considered one of the most efficient models for natural gas-based electricity generation. Combined cycle plants generate electricity in two ways: spinning a turbine using natural gas and spinning a turbine with steam power. The first half of the plant operates as a non-combined system would, by combusting natural gas and using that energy to spin a turbine. Combined systems maximize the output of the natural gas combustion by utilizing excess heat from the combustion cycle to heat water into steam, which then powers a separate turbine, thus generating more electricity. Along with being an efficient system, combined cycle plants are also designed to minimize emissions as much as possible. Combined cycle plants are also, on average, the least expensive of the three major types of natural gas-fired plants. They have also grown in popularity in recent years, making up 75 percent of new plants built in 2015.
Representatives from Longview Power told the Pittsburgh Business Times that their focus going forward is to invest in “very efficient, very cost effective” power generation that “meets the needs of the future electricity market…that includes renewable energy”. They also spoke of the job creation that this plan would bring. While the majority of jobs would stem from the natural gas plant, there would be opportunities for those in Pennsylvania to commute south to work in the plant, as well as job creation in ancillary industries as a result of this project.