Plan for power plant moves forward

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A city project to build a combined heat and power plant near Denton Airport moved a step closer to reality Tuesday as the City Council approved an engineering contract for a related natural gas pipeline. IN OTHER ACTION

Also Tuesday, the Denton City Council:• Held a lunchtime meeting with Texas Woman's University officials to discuss forming working groups on topics of common interest, such as university growth and job creation.• Heard an update on a proposed sustainability plan. Denton received a $1.1 million grant as part of the 2009 federal stimulus act that included $138,000 to pay consultants to develop the second phase of a comprehensive sustainability plan. The plan is expected to be finished in April.• Discussed changes to the city's 2007 infill special-purpose district ordinance to encourage redevelopment. The code standards currently apply only to undeveloped lots in existing neighborhoods but would expand to include some previously developed lots, under a city staff proposal. Council members directed staff to draft new code language while balancing a desire for compatible development and neighborhood preservation. No vote was scheduled. The 2007 code was designed to offer flexibility in development standards for people building on small tracts of empty land inside central Denton, but only two project applications were submitted.

-Lowell Brown

The council voted 6-0 without discussion to approve a $314,800 contract with engineering firm Teague, Nall and Perkins of Denton to design the pipeline, following a closed-door meeting. Council member James King attended the meeting but was not present for the vote.

City officials believe they could use the facility to attract industrial companies to the area. The pipeline is critical because the area lacks the natural gas capacity needed to attract some industries, officials have said.

Officials declined to discuss details of the project because the city is still acquiring land. The plant's location hasn't been announced, but documents provided to the council show the pipeline could run along Jim Christal Road and Western Boulevard, north of the airport.

Denton Municipal Electric executive manager Michael Grim touted the project as another example of DME's environmental leadership, similar to its commitment to buy 40 percent of its power from wind energy. The U.S. Department of Energy considers combined heat and power plants as a green energy source, he said.

The plants produce electricity and thermal energy from a single fuel source. The facilities are an alternative to the more common practice of customers buying power from a local utility and burning fuel in a furnace or boiler to make thermal energy.

Two-thirds of the energy in fuel is lost as vented heat at most U.S. power plants, according to Environmental Protection Agency estimates. Combined heat and power plants use heat-recovery technology to trap some of the heat that would be wasted.

The EPA promotes the plants because of their potential to reduce fossil fuel use and the associated air pollution, including greenhouse gases.

State lawmakers passed a bill this year to aid the project, allowing Denton to sell natural gas to industrial customers located in a defined economic development zone near the airport. Sen. Craig Estes, R-Wichita Falls, authored the bill, and Rep. Myra Crownover, R-Denton, sponsored it in the House.

City spokesman John Cabrales said the council still must pass an ordinance creating the economic development zone. A vote is expected in February, he said.

The council discussions have taken place behind closed doors under a state law that lets city-owned utilities meet with attorneys privately about competitive matters. The agenda for Tuesday's meeting also included a closed session on possible land acquisitions north, east and west of the airport.

The contract approved Tuesday includes engineering and design of the pipeline and miscellaneous fees. The council followed a recommendation of its Public Utilities Board and did not approve an additional $175,000 requested for construction management services.

Also Tuesday, the council again delayed action on a specific-use permit that would allow Atmos Energy Corp. to drill a natural gas storage well south of East McKinney Street, about 900 feet west of Trinity Road in eastern Denton.

The company operates a gas processing facility on an adjacent site that includes eight storage wells and a compressor.

The permit's approval was in doubt after city staff members said the well would be within 600 feet of a residential structure that may or may not be occupied. City code prevents gas drilling and production activities within 1,000 feet of homes unless the applicant obtains a waiver from the property owner or a variance from a city zoning board.

Atmos officials said they would explore those alternatives. The council planned to reconsider the issue Jan. 10.

LOWELL BROWN can be reached at 940-566-6882. His e-mail address is lmbrown@dentonrc.com .


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