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Bids in for Denton power plant

Profile image for By Peggy Heinkel-Wolfe
By Peggy Heinkel-Wolfe

The bids are in, but it’s a mystery how much the city could end up paying for a new natural gas-fired power plant.

The Denton City Council is expected to discuss the purchase of 12 natural gas engines and the contract to build the plant that houses them on Tuesday. But the meeting documents (posted with the agenda on Friday afternoon) are heavily redacted.

No dollar figures showed how much Denton Municipal Electric will likely pay for 12 engines from Wärtsilä, should the City Council approve the purchase. Nor were any dollar figures visible for the construction agreement with Burns and McDonnell Engineering, should the City Council award the contract.

The documents are all marked as confidential, commercially sensitive, proprietary and containing competitive financial information.

The city staff has recommended DME buy the engines for the power plant from a Finnish company, Wärtsilä. They scored Wärtsilä higher than bids from three other engine manufacturers: General Electric, Mann and Rolls Royce.

They also scored Missouri-based contractor Burns and McDonnell higher than two other firms — Saulsbury Industries of Farmers Branch, and Fagen Inc. of Granite Falls, Minnesota — to build the plant.

Few who have watched DME’s moves closely in the past year are surprised that Wärtsilä edged out the other engine manufacturers.

Wärtsilä is well known in the shipping industry for its efficient, natural gas-fired engines that power cruise ships and tankers. The company began aggressively marketing its engines to U.S. utilities as a flexible backup for wind and solar farms about 10 years ago. It hosts a Flexible Power Symposium every year, inviting engineers and analysts to discuss the merits of Wärtsilä engines for such use.

Two DME employees traveled to Portland, Oregon, in August 2015 to attend Wärtsilä’s symposium, city records show. Other city records show Wärtsilä representatives were in Denton in May 2015 visiting with DME officials. Employees from the Brattle Group have been featured speakers at the Wärtsilä symposium.

The Brattle Group has prepared white papers for the Texas Clean Energy Coalition, making the case for engines, such as those Wärtsilä sells, to replace the state’s coal-fired power plants. They prepared a similar analysis for the Denton City Council this year after DME proposed that the city walk away from coal-fired power and replace it with natural-gas engines instead.

The City Council previously authorized $265 million in revenue bonds to pay for the project.


PEGGY HEINKEL-WOLFE can be reached at 940-566-6881 and via Twitter at @phwolfeDRC.