The Lafayette Utilities System (LUS) plans to build a new natural gas power plant to make up for the loss of electricity from a 40-year-old coal-burning plant being decommissioned.
News of the plan surprised some renewable energy advocates who expected LUS to replace the coal-sourced power with solar energy.
The government-owned utility published a project timeline and other details of the plan on its website last week. LUS will construct the facility at its existing operations center, about a mile north of the Cajundome.
The site was home to the Louis “Doc” Bonin Generation Station, which was built in 1965 to supply electricity to Lafayette using gas-fired steam turbines. LUS shut down the station in 2013 and converted the building into its operations center.
A new gas power plant would provide cleaner electricity than what LUS is currently generating with its Rodemacher coal plant, which will be shut down in 2027.
The utility has issued several announcements in recent years about its plans to diversify its generation capacity with renewable sources. LUS owns and operates two other power stations in Lafayette that use natural gas.
News reports from 2020 suggested the utility was planning to replace the Rodemacher plant with up to 250 megawatts of solar and eventually adopt enough solar to comprise 60% of its electricity supply.
Solar and wind have become the one of the cheapest forms of electricity, with solar costs declining by a staggering 90% over the past decade, according to an analysis from the Lazard financial firm. Renewable energy generation costs increased for the first time this year due to inflation, but still remain competitive with natural gas and less sensitive to price fluctuations for construction and fuel.
“Because it’s going to be level and steady, I know what I’m getting into and I’m not subject to natural gas prices that go crazy after every natural disaster or energy prices that may skyrocket because of transmission issues on the grid or whatever it may be,” LUS Director Jeffrey Stewart told the Daily Advertiser in a 2020 interview. This gives us a lot of stability.
In an interview Friday with the Illuminator, Stewart said LUS doesn’t plan to convert 60% of its portfolio to solar power, but it is still moving forward on a path to renewable energy.
“It’s an independent path,” Stewart said. “They aren’t tied together. Regardless of the coal unit or what we decide to do in the future, we are still pursuing solar paths.”
Stewart said LUS’s new natural gas plant isn’t a replacement for a solar project. The utility is currently in the final stages of contract negotiation for a portion of 250 megawatts of solar power. LUS will likely contract with a second power supplier for the remainder.
Adding a new natural gas plant at the Bonin facility to handle peak capacity times was originally part of the utility’s plan from 2020, he said.
“We’re not doing one in lieu of the other,” Stewart said.
LUS has planned two town hall meetings to share information about the natural gas plant project with residents next week. The first will take place from 6 to 7:30 pm Monday at the Lafayette Main Library. The second session will be from 6-7:30 pm Wednesday at the South Regional Library.
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