Dixon Power Tour 2002

in the corn fields

In July 2002 I took a week off to visit Dixon, Ann Arbor, and Parma. The visit to Dixon was somewhat a busman's holiday perhaps...this is the sign at the entrance to the Duke Energy power plant east of Dixon near Nachusa (closeup).

jet engines

This is the plant from the entrance road just before the gate. This is a "simple cycle" gas turbine plant; there are 8 GE gas turbines giving the plant a total rating of 649 megawatts (MW). The white louvered structures are the air intake filter houses, connected by ductwork to each turbine. Below each filter house is the generator. Each turbine is to the left of the generator, partially behind the exhaust stack. This plant is known as a "peaker" because the units can be started up and shut down quickly to respond to changing electrical loads. Duke Energy sells the power to Commonwealth Edison (the local utility) or to other utilities elsewhere on the grid; thus this type of plant is known as a "merchant power plant." The plant has about 50% of its capacity contracted to Commonwealth Edison (the local utility). Still, it did not operate much during the 2002 summer.


Another view of the plant; here I am looking west from the dead end of the construction entrance road on the Nachusa (east) side of the facility. This plant went into commercial operation in 2001--at one time in 2000 I thought there would be a chance I'd be working on it.

stacking up?

This photo was taken looking northwest from the Nachusa Road bridge over the Tollway.

site under construction

About 10 miles west of the Duke plant, in the village of Nelson, another much larger power plant complex was under construction. This location is halfway between Dixon and Sterling near the south bank of the Rock River.

cooling tower in front

When I first drove up to this project I thought it was an auto assembly plant (or something similar) rather than a power plant. Then I noticed the heat recovery steam generators (HRSG's) sticking up from behind the cooling tower, which is in front of the main portion of the plant. Here I'm looking southeast from the Nelson side of the project.

if you build it they will come

This is a zoomed view from the same spot. The blue and white turbine building behind the cooling tower houses the gas and steam turbines; on this project there is one steam turbine for each HRSG. Each train (GE 7FA gas turbine/HRSG/steam turbine) is rated at 275 MW, the nominal total plant rating is 1160 MW. Just to the right of the large crane, the steam drums are visible atop one of the HRSG's.

This project was owned at the time by NRG Energy (the independent arm of Xcel Energy, a power utility in the upper Midwest). NEPCO, the design and construction firm owned by Enron, was the engineering contractor, and PCL of Edmonton, Alberta, was the prime construction contractor. The project and permits have been bought and sold more than once; this project was one of several that NRG bought from LS Power in November 2000.

from the craft parking

The view at right is looking northwest from the gas turbine side of the plant. The turbine building is somewhat "M" shaped in plan, as you can see from the artist's conception of the completed plant (below, from the PCL web site). Construction started in May, 2001, at the time completion was scheduled for July, 2003, with a peak work force of 800 people.


Update #1...in mid-September 2002, construction was suspended on this and other NRG projects due to cash flow problems.

Update #2...in August 2004 the project, once valued at over $300 million, was sold by then-bankrupt NRG to Invenergy LLC at the fire-sale price of $19.5 million. Invenergy was evaluating the completion of the first two units (which they rate at 290 MW each) and the sale or relocation of the remaining plant equipment.

Update #3...in June 2007 Fluor (my current employer) officially announced a contract for engineering, procurement, and construction of a 570-megawatt combined cycle plant, the St. Clair Energy Centre, near Sarnia, Ontario. Here's a Fluor press release on the project and the 2006 Invenergy environmental impact statement on the project. What isn't mentioned in these two items is that two of the 1-on-1 combined cycle units for this project are being relocated from the Nelson site. What will be left near Dixon? Plans are moving forward for completion of the first 2 units along with a methanol plant. Here's an April 2007 [Sterling] Daily Gazette article. Below, an aerial view of the Nelson site from the Invenergy project page.

Dixon power?

Other bits of trivia...NRG also bought the Audrain County, Missouri power plant from Duke Energy in 2001. Audrain, located 90 miles south of St. Louis, is a near-twin of the Lee County plant and was built at the same time. Audrain was sold to a subsidiary of Ameren Corporation, a St. Louis-based electrical utility, in April 2006 for $115 million (of which only $20 million went to NRG). And Invenergy also now owns the mothballed Grays Harbor, Washington combined cycle site which they purchased from Duke Energy (note that in May 2007 they obtained financing to complete Grays Harbor (Invenergy press release)). But Duke still owns the Lee County peaker as of mid-2007.

best by a dam site

One more power plant, this one a bit older... This is the sign on the powerhouse wall of the Rock River hydroelectric dam in downtown Dixon. This view is looking west along River Street, freshly repaved. Gone is the railroad spur to the cement plant which used to run down the middle of the street. The power plant is now operated by STS Hydropower. Originally built in 1925, it consists of 5 generators with a total capacity of 3 (three) MW. Probably most of the power demand in the city of Dixon when it was built.

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