116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
MARION - Construction of a $100 million-plus, solid-waste-burning plasma arc power plant could begin as early as spring, with electricity being generated before the end of 2012.
Marion City Manager Lon Pluckhahn expects the City Council to approve today a $95,000 investment for preliminary engineering.
The city selected Plasma Power LLC of Fort Lauderdale, Fla., as a partner in building the plant, which will be designed to burn up to 250 tons a day of solid waste - garbage diverted from the Linn County landfill.
The firm is evaluating at least three sites in Marion, moving forward on designing the plant and seeking air permits, said Jim Juranitch, Plasma Power president and CEO.
The plant and the efficient generation of clean electricity from a renewable source is a major step forward for Marion and the industry, Juranitch said.
“I really think Marion and the Cedar Rapids area is going to become one of the greenest places on the planet,” Juranitch said. “We're looking to replace a lot of the heaviest greenhouse gas polluters, which is the coal-fired electrical power, with something that is renewable and much cleaner.”
Some of that green will be in the form of cash, Pluckhahn said. About 20 employees will be needed to operate the plant, and many more to construct it.
The plant, which Juranitch said could cost between $104 million and $172 million to build, would carry the highest property tax assessment of any property in Marion, Pluckhahn said. The next largest is assessed at $14 million.
Plasma arc, sometimes referred to as plasma converters or plasma torches, uses an electric arc much like lightning to create high temperatures that virtually destroy waste and convert it to gases. Plasma Power will generate electricity, so Juranitch is looking for a site near a transmission-grade power line.
In addition to the city's $95,000 investment, Plasma Power will seek to finance some construction costs with state disaster recovery bonds. The plant could qualify, because it would replace generating capacity lost when Alliant Energy's Cedar Rapids Sixth Street plant was damaged by 2008 flooding.
Once operational, Juranitch said, the plant could generate between 47 and 62 megawatts of electricity - about enough to power 47,000 to 62,000 households. According to the 2000 census, Linn County has 76,000 households.
In addition to replacing non-renewable energy sources with cleaner, renewable sources, the Marion plasma arc power plant will produce electricity more cheaply than other forms of energy.
If Juranitch builds a 47-megawatt plant, the electricity will cost $2,255 per kilowatt. A 62-megawatt plant will produce power for $2,766 per kilowatt.
By comparison, electricity from a new wood gasification plant would cost $3,048 per kilowatt. A recently announced plasma-based renewable energy 25-megawatt electrical power generation plant project in Milwaukee has a projected cost of $9,000 per kilowatt.
The new power-generating technology will likely put Marion on display to the world, Pluckhahn said.
“It's a big deal for more than just for Marion,” Pluckhahn said. “You're going from something that's considered a waste to considering it to be a raw material. That changes the game for how this is dealt with. There is potential for this to be duplicated all over.”