Associated Electric Cooperative Inc. celebrated the completion of its newest power plant in Dell, on Thursday, May 22, by hosting a reception and tours of its generating facility.
The Dell power plant is a low-emissions, efficient combined-cycle gas plant, located on Highway 18, east of Dell. AECI purchased the partially completed 580-megawatt, natural-gas plant from TECO Energy in August of 2005 after construction was suspended. The AECI plant at Dell was completed in August of 2007. The total project cost is listed under $200 million dollars, less than half the cost estimated to build a similar plant today.
"The construction of this plant has been a partnership with AECI and the community," said Duane Highley, Power Production director. "The plant will constitute an annual payroll of 2 1/2 million dollars. We are a non-profit cooperative owned by our customers, and are proud to say we are extremely efficient in running our business. This is a clean facility, with low emissions."
"We have worked good together," said Steve McGuire, Mississippi County judge. "We all take credit for the success of this plant. Previously we collected $715 a year in taxes off of this 114 acres of land in our county. With the completion of the plant we will now collect $430,000 in revenue."
"The goal of this plant has been to enhance the quality of life here," McGuire said. "The plant generated about 350 construction jobs, with 20 full-time employees. Seeing this plant completed and in operation makes it a great day to be living in Mississippi County."
AECI Board President O.B. Clark addressed the visitors by reviewing his 30 years as an independent member of the board.
"This is our first venture into the state of Arkansas," Clark said. "We are a locally controlled member owned operation with a chain of six transmission cooperatives. We pride ourselves in being a wholesale power supplier for six regional and 51 local electric cooperatives, serving 850,000 customers.
"We generate coal, natural gas, water, and wind. We make electricity affordable and reliable. Our strategy is to be energy efficient. Half of our households have an average income of $40,000 a year, with 1/5 of them less than $20,000. We have to produce affordable power to meet the needs of our members, and ensure long-term reliability."
Jim Jura, CEO and general manager, explained the Dell plant's value for AECI and its members.
"We want to own, operate and fulfill our own destiny," Jura said. "Converting this plant has put a lot of stress and strain on all of us, but we can see now that it was worth it. We are thankful for all the people who worked with us to make this day of celebration possible. You own these facilities.
"Our geographic footprints comes from a wide area. There were a lot of surprises along the way. This plant has become an excellent addition with a broad mix of generating energy."
Project Manager and general contractor Joe Collins explained the business partners' perspective on the plant.
"We hired local people to work on the plant as much as possible," Collins said. "We housed our people at the former air force base. The families of workers moved their children here with them and entered them in school at Gosnell. This became more than just a workplace for them, it became their home. They planted flowers and got involved in community projects."
Gosnell School Superintendent Stan Williams attested to the positive impact that the plant has had on local schools.
"This plant and its workers have become a big part of Gosnell School," Williams said. "When the air base closed in 1992 we had to restructure and refocus everything. In 2003 we were able to meet our goal to build a new elementary school."
Under an economic development agreement, AECI will make periodic payments to Gosnell School District, Mississippi County, the town of Dell and Arkansas Northeastern College. Payments will total $19.35 million during the 30-year agreement.
"The total of all grants for Gosnell School District will be $11 million dollars when it is all done," Williams said. "We are making plans for new construction and improvements to our school. AECI has made a strong commitment to our school, and have been very generous."
AECI board members, special guests and community leaders were given a seven-station tour of the facility following the dedication program. Stops included the circulation water system, which uses 72-inch pipe used to pump 186,000 gallons of water per minute, from a depth of 1,300 feet. The water is filtered through several processing sources, treated and stored in a 1.5 million gallon tank. The hum of the two General Electric combustion turbines can be heard along the walkway as they generated 170 megawatts of power each. One steam turbine has a net capacity of 240 MW. The entire plant is monitored 24/7 by an elaborate control room system, in the heart of the plant. A large cooling tower can be seen rising 165 feet into the leveled farming countryside near the entrance to the power plant as Highway 18 runs east from Dell to Blytheville. The Dell plant has definitely made its mark on the delta terrain.
AECI's new power plant at Dell has been well received and welcomed by the citizens of Mississippi County, the educational facilities, and area residents. The plant is fulfilling its commitment to improve the infrastructure of the community, provide a sound resource base and be environmentally conscious.