Exelon expanding gas-fueled power plants near Houston, Fort Worth

Exelon Corp. will use GE gas turbines, like the one pictured above, in its Texas plants. (GE)
Exelon Corp. will use GE gas turbines, like the one pictured above, in its Texas plants. (GE)

Chicago-based Exelon Corp. began construction this week on major power plant expansions near Houston and Fort Worth that rely on cheap natural gas and much less water consumption.

The projects, which are roughly $750 million each, will triple the amount of power production at Exelon’s  Colorado Bend  Generating Station in Wharton, which is about 45 miles southwest of Houston. The second 1,000-megawatt expansion is for the Wolf Hollow Generating Station outside of Fort Worth.

“It’s a clean-burning technology and you’re able to produce larger amounts of power,” said Dave Sikora, Exelon’s head of engineering and projects, in a phone interview. “It’s what the market is driving us to.”

Exelon is using combined-cycle gas turbines manufactured by General Electric that are the first of their kind in the U.S., Sikora said. They rely on closed-loop, air-cooling systems that use about 10 percent of the water consumption of normal gas turbine plants, he added.

“It’s more expensive to build it that way, but we’re doing it knowing that water is becoming a more scarce resource,” Sikora said. “The populations are growing. They’re going to need the electricity. It’s really what the market in Texas needs and is demanding.”

The two new projects are expected to be completed before the summer of 2017, he said.

Exelon, which focuses more on natural gas-fired and nuclear power plants, has generally supported the federal government’s push to regulate emissions, which has a greater impact on coal-fired plants. The company also touts its increasing investments in wind and solar power.

Exelon has six gas-fired plants in Texas, including the Wharton plant and its ExTex LaPorte Generating Station

The 1,000-megawatt expansion, which is enough to power nearly 750,000 homes, adds to the existing six-unit, 498-megawatt natural gas power plant in Wharton. The plant joined Exelon’s fleet in 2012 as part of Exelon’s acquisition of Constellation Energy.