BOUNTIFUL — The timing turned out to be “right on” when it came to turning on Bountiful’s new turbines in early 2012.
That’s because two heat-scorching summers followed, putting those natural gas turbines to frequent use.
The new turbines replaced old coal-fired turbines, some of which were at least 50 years old, with cleaner natural gas units.
“They are doing what we thought they would do,” Mayor Joe Johnson said of the natural gas turbines.
That is, cut the need to buy power supply on the open market, which can be costly depending on the time of year. That gives the city’s power department more options in when and where it buys outside power.
“We’ll have saved close to $3 million,” following the hot 2012 and 2013 summers, said Allen Johnson, power department director.
“It was like having an ice cream factory without a freezer,” Johnson said of the old turbines. “On a hot day, everybody wants ice cream. On a cold day, nobody wants it and it just sits on the dock and melts.”
The price of natural gas has also dipped to relatively low levels, Johnson said.
“By having these generators and being able to use them when we need to, we can watch the market, only run them when it makes sense,” he said.
On Monday, for instance, Bountiful Light & Power (power department) was buying power from the market rather than running the turbines.
“Right now in the market, the value of going to buy power is less than what it costs to operate the turbines. That makes a big difference,” Johnson said.
He compared today’s capability to buy power with the energy crisis of 2000.
“In 2000, when power took a big jump in price, we had no way to combat it and just had to pay the market rate,” Johnson said.
The power department took close to a $10 million hit during the 2000 to 2001 energy crisis.
The turbine project cost $25 million. Of that, $15 million is funded by bonds and $10 million from the city’s capital replacement fund. The city agreed to a 10-year guaranteed payoff on the $15 million.
“At this point we have intentions of paying it off in eight years,” he said.
“I like the independence it gives us. When we need it we can have it,” the mayor said.
“I’ve always said power is such a fragile thing, with substations, power poles, and we buy power from all different sources. I don’t think people realize what a blessing it is to have our own power system, our independence,” he said.