Construction workers have kept a brisk schedule erecting the Denton Energy Center, which is about halfway to completion this week. 

Denton Municipal Electric is building the natural gas-fired power plant on the west side Denton Enterprise Airport. The $265 million power plant is supposed to help the city-owned utility lower its electric rates. Chris Lutrick, DME engineer and supervisor of the construction project, said the wet summer has slowed progress very little. Crews have been able to adapt. 

"Everything is scheduled out to the day," Lutrick said. 

In addition, the project remains within budget, with about 43 percent of the project funds expended, according to Deputy City Manager Bryan Langley.  

The job site on Jim Christal Road has several hubs. DME contractors continue to work on a new substation that will take the electricity generated by the plant and push it to the Texas electric grid. A Missouri firm, Burns and McDonnell, is overseeing the construction of the buildings that will house the control room and engines that make up the heart of the plant. And a small crew from Wärtsilä, a Finnish engine manufacturer, is assembling the 12 engines that will slowly be installed in the building between now and October.   

Six of the engines are on the site, but it will be a few more days before the other six engines arrive in Denton. The engines, which were built in Trieste, Italy, are coming by boat and train and then by truck. A second delivery of the other six engines was delayed because of Hurricane Gert, Lutrick said.

Workers have logged more than 100,000 hours at the site so far without injuries. Burns and McDonnell hired many North Texas subcontractors to work on the job, including firms from Aubrey, Carrollton, Denton, Dallas and Rockwall. Two out-of-state contractors — Triad of Louisiana and Azco of Wisconsin — have hired local union and non-union laborers, according to Brent Heath, DME's executive manager for energy delivery.

The engines, which are akin to the natural gas engines that power cruise ships, should be ready to make electricity next summer. Denton's plant can generate about 225 megawatts of electricity when all 12 engines are running. One megawatt can power about 400 homes. 

DME proposed the plant as a way to unshackle the city from coal-fired power, which had become increasingly costly in recent years. The new plant was also supposed to help DME negotiate long-term contracts for renewable energy from wind and solar farms on its own terms. DME officials agreed the proposal seemed counter-intuitive, but to save ratepayers over the long run, they said they needed to make this major investment. 

The plan proved controversial. City officials have ordered several new analyses of the project, including a review of the plant's air permit, its financial assumptions and its final role in providing power to the city. The results are expected in the coming weeks. 

The city's finance staff projected the plant will ultimately cost about $8.1 million per year to run. They also projected finance payments that start at about $25 million per year in the first few years of a 20-year obligation. 

DME recently hired a plant manager, who, in turn, will hire about a dozen people to run the Denton Energy Center, including mechanics, instrument control specialists and engine operators.

PEGGY HEINKEL-WOLFE can be reached at 940-566-6881.

FEATURED PHOTO: Construction crews work in the South Engine Hall at the Denton Energy Center on Wednesday. Construction on the center is approximately 50 percent complete. The commercial target date for operation is set for summer 2018.

Jeff Woo/DRC

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