Days after Iowa Utilities Board issues a franchise to complete the transmission ring around the metro area, my client, Diane Schou, sends this from the local TV station:

Plans to build billion dollar plant

And it’s everywhere in the news there, I’ve never seen such a spread as there is in the Waterloo paper:


$1 billion Waterloo power plant proposed
By PAT KINNEY, Courier Business Editor

WATERLOO — A New Jersey-based company has proposed what would be the single largest economic development project in Cedar Valley history — a $1 billion, 600-megawatt power plant in northeast Waterloo.

LS Power, based in East Brunswick, N.J., with offices in St. Louis, proposes building the massive facility on 320 acres of land along Newell Street east of Eagle Ottawa tannery. It is on land which is currently in Black Hawk County but would be annexed into the city of Waterloo, pending approval by the City Council and the county Board of Supervisors.

Also pending state and federal regulatory approvals, construction of the coal-fired power plant would begin in 2007 and be completed in 2011.

The plant would employ up to 1,200 construction workers over the four-year period at a total construction payroll of $200 million. It would employ 100 permanent professional staff at a total annual payroll of $7 million, an average of $70,000 per permanent employee. LS Power would hire a private firm experienced in power plant operations and maintenance to staff and run the facility.

The plant would pay about $2 million a year total to Waterloo city and Black Hawk County governments and Waterloo schools in taxes. Utility companies do not pay property taxes but pay a “replacement tax” determined by the state based on the volume of power generated and other factors.

LS Power has developed, or is developing, several similar coal- and natural gas-fired facilities throughout the central United States, including sites in the South and upper Midwest. The independent power plant would sell power to municipal and investor-owned electric utilities and cooperatives.

“We’ve talked to a number of (potential) customers,” said Robert Colozza, project manager for LS Power Development. The company hopes to line up customers during the permitting and regulatory process, which could take up to two years.

“Essentially every utility cooperative in the region has announced or discussed some need for new coal-fired (generating) capacity,” Colozza said. “A big part of it is natural gas prices are up at all-time-high levels.”

LS Power has acquired options on all the real estate necessary to proceed with the project, Colozza said. It is primarily farm land, with two residences involved.

“We did a very extensive site search for what we believed to be the best site,” throughout the Midwest, Colozza said.

Local factors

The Waterloo site stood out because of:

— Rail access and the presence of multiple railroads in the area to supply coal.

— Access to a high voltage transmission system, with two major substations, one to the north of the city’s northeast industrial area, and another near Hazleton.

— Ample water supply. Colozza said waste water from the city of Waterloo sewage treatment plant can be cleaned on site, used for cooling and recycled.

— A large tract of land near an existing industrial area.

“There’s a lot of industry currently here, and we believe there’s an adequate work force for what we’re doing, and in the region there’s a large work force to draw from as well,” Colozza said. He estimated half the plant’s permanent work force would be current residents, or former residents returning to the area.

“I think this is a great fit” for the community, Waterloo Mayor Tim Hurley said. “The assets of our community have spoken for themselves — the transportation, the rail, the work force and the market.”

He praised Greater Cedar Valley Alliance officials for following through on the prospect.

The facility would be required to install extensive emission control equipment, and would be subject to the regulation of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, the Iowa Utilities Board and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. It would require a number of state and federal permits, an open process for which public review and comment is required.

Colozza said the plant would provide a couple of additional environmental benefits.

Methane gas generated at Tyson Foods’ Waterloo operation, currently unused and “burned off” in the air, could be processed and burned with coal to generate electricity.

Also, he said fly ash from the burned coal would not be displaced in the air but recaptured and provided for fill material at local quarry operations such as Basic Materials Corp., to restore the land there as portions of quarry operations are exhausted.

The first public meetings on the project will occur in about three months. An “open house” is planned prior to the project coming before the city Planning, Programming and Zoning Commission.

The project has been in the works for about two years.

“Back in 2003, 2004, we held an initial round of meetings with the community to gauge public support for a project like this. … We received very positive response,” Colozza said.

While coal-fired power plants haven’t been built for 20 to 25 years, “the demand continues to grow,” Colozza said. With expected natural gas price increases, now is an opportune time for the company to proceed to build a plant utilizing coal, a less expensive and plentiful energy source with ample supplies in Wyoming and the western United States.

“This project is going to be here for a long time,” Colozza said. “We’re talking about a usable life of 40-plus years. Energy demands don’t go away. The project will always be running and needed, and so will be a steady source of revenue and jobs.”

It will also be a low-cost provider of energy to the region, which will boost additional economic development, he said.

It would be the largest single construction project ever seen in Waterloo-Cedar Falls, topping the estimated $500 million Deere & Co. spent in the 1970s to build or modernize all its present-day facilities here, culminating with construction of the East Donald Street Tractor Works in 1979-80.

The largest projects since then would have been IBP, now Tyson Foods, in 1990 and the Target Distribution Center in Cedar Falls in 2003, valued at about $40 million to $45 million each; and Deere’s current $127 million, multi-year redevelopment of its Westfield Avenue and East Donald Street facilities, announced in 2000 and still in progress. Isle of Capri’s proposed casino project south of Crossroads Center, for which work has just begun, is estimated at about $100 million. It is to be completed in 2007.

LS Power’s record

Founded in 1990, LS Power has developed, built and sold nine different natural gas-fired power plants in the South and upper Midwest 1998 and again 2001 when they became hot commodities.

“It wasn’t necessarily our business intent, rather a function of the energy market at that time. There was a very high premium placed on generation capacity in the late ’90s, early 2000, and so we capitalized on that opportunity,” Colozza said.

LS Power isn’t proposing to build the Waterloo operation in anticipation of selling it, Colozza said. “Our intent going forward is to develop, own, and operate the plants over a long term,” Colozza said. “But, of course, we are a business, and so we had a business opportunity at that point” to sell the nine plants in 1998 and 2001.

He noted that whichever entity operates the Waterloo plant still would have to abide by state and federal environmental standards. And, he said, “they’ll still pay the same taxes.”

LS Power currently operates three gas-fired plants and has four other coal-fired projects in the works in Arkansas, Nevada, Georgia and Texas.

When LS Power initially approached Greater Cedar Valley Alliance officials two years ago, Alliance business services manager Linda Laylin said her organization did a substantial amount of “due diligence” researching LS Power over that time, looking at financial reports and consulting with state economic development officials previously in contact with them.

“That information demonstrated to us their capability” to do what they have proposed, Laylin said. The company recently closed on a $1.2 billion private equity fund to leverage financing for their projects.

“From what I can tell, it seems to be a well-organized company in the electric energy business,” said GCVA executive director Steve Dust, who previously worked in the power industry with MidAmerican Energy and predecessor utilities. LS Power’s reputation has grown in the two years since they approached local officials, he said

“The (proposed) plant is characteristic of where the industry is right now … in terms of developing to meet the needs of wholesale power buyers in different regions of the country,” Dust said.

Dust suggested any change in ownership, and LS Power’s plans to contract with a professional private firm to staff and maintain it, would be analogous to another commercial property such as a shopping center either changing hands, or the developer/owner hiring a professional management firm to run it.

Additionally, the power industry is “a very regulated business,” Dust said, and Alliance staff will continue to perform “due diligence” research on the company in preparing a development agreement with them.

Laylin suggested some state funds may be pursued for road and other infrastructure improvements serving the proposed plant, as well as state job training tax credits. Colozza said his company is interested in hearing what incentives may be available, but is not seeking tax abatements.

Here are locals falling over themselves praising the plant:

Power plant has list of supporters

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