By PAUL STONE
The $350 million-plus Bethel Energy Center could be operational as soon as mid-2016 and will bring clean energy, jobs and revenue to Anderson County, according to a top official with Houston-based Apex.
Jack L. Farley, president of Apex, said his company plans to construct a compressed air energy storage plant in an area off of FM 2706 in northern Anderson County at a cost of between $350 and $400 million. Construction will begin no earlier than next May, with the plant taking approximately three years to complete.
Farley met with Anderson County commissioners, representatives of Cayuga schools and community members Monday to discuss the project.
An average of 200 workers will be on the job during the project’s construction phase, while 20 to 25 permanent jobs will be created as a result of the venture, according to Farley.
According to Apex’ website, compressed air energy storage (CAES) is unique in its ability to efficiently store and redeploy energy on a large scale in order to provide low-cost energy and enhance grid reliability. A CAES power generation facility uses electric motor-driven compressors to inject air into an underground storage cavern and later releases the compressed air to turn turbines and generate electricity back onto the grid, the company’s website continues.
The first CAES plant, a 290 megawatt facility, was built in Huntorf, Germany in 1978. Thirteen years later, the 110 megawatt McIntosh CAES plant began operations in Alabama. The plants, which have a combined 50-year-plus lifetime, have exceptional track records for safety and clean energy, according to Farley.
“This (the proposed Bethel plant) is one of the first modern ones built,” Farley told the Herald-Press by telephone Tuesday afternoon. “There’s kind of been a hiatus and now the time has come again.”
Farley indicated a change in rules by the Public Utility Commission of Texas this past March opened the door for “storage to be viable in Texas.”
The Bethel Energy Center is slated to be a 317 megawatt facility which is about one-quarter of the size of a gas-powered plant near Richland Chambers in Freestone County, according to Farley.
“It’s (the Bethel plant) not a huge facility by power plant standards, but it’s sizable,” Farley stated.
Farley said his company has an option to purchase 45 acres adjacent to the Atmos Energy plant off of FM 2706. The area is suitable for such an operation since there is a salt dome and cavern construction infrastructure already in place. The presence of a 42-inch pipeline is an added bonus, he continued.
The center’s actual “footprint” will be approximately 15 acres for the equipment, office building and other aspects, according to the company’s president.
“The salt dome is No. 1 on the list (of needs to construct such a plant),” Farley explained. “...We need a cavern to store our air in order to make our process work. All of these types of things are really rare to find.
“We’ll move all of our power onto the Texas grid,” he added.
Farley said the top of the dome will be approximately 3,750 feet below the surface, with the bottom between 5,000 and 5,500 feet below the surface.
Apex will provide “a substantial new source of (tax) revenue for the county and (Cayuga) school district,” while placing minimal stress on county resources, Farley indicated.
As an example, Farley said Apex will not be routinely running trucks on county and state roads.
“We’re not going to stress the county’s infrastructure,” Farley said.
In the coming months, Farley said his company will be available to address civic clubs or community groups “just so people will know what we’re up to and we’ll answer any questions.”
Paul Stone may be contacted via e-mail at email@example.com