Panda Power Funds, the company behind the 758-megawatt power plant being built in Sherman’s Progress Industrial Park, held a groundbreaking ceremony Thursday for executives, public officials and prominent business leaders in the community.
Sherman Economic Development Corporation (SEDCO) President Scott Connell hosted a panel of five speakers — Public Utility Commission of Texas Commissioner Rolando Pablos, Sherman Mayor Bill Magers, Siemens Energy Solutions Executive Vice President Mario Azar, Texas District 62 Rep. Larry Phillips and PPF President Todd Carter — who addressed the crowd before the ceremonial groundbreaking. It was all done in the shadow of the ongoing plant construction, which began in earnest following the securing of financing in mid-September.
Before introducing the first speaker, Connell said his staff looked through records this week and determined Panda made their its contact with SEDCO on June 28, 2007. The Public Utility Commissioner then stepped to the microphone to talk about the significance of the project to the area, the state and the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, which operates the state’s electric grid.
“There are only three grids in this country, and we have one of them in Texas,” Pablos said. “This project has special significance for me as a regulator. It means state-of-the-art, clean energy and all of those wonderful things that come with new technologies are going to be implemented here. If we have a robust electric system, we will have energy prosperity, and energy prosperity would lead to economic prosperity.”
Magers gave credit to some leaders of the past for helping pave the way for that possible economic prosperity.
“This project would not have happened without groundwork that was laid by visionary leaders in 1979,” Magers said about former Sherman Mayor David Sprowl and the Denison leadership that helped form the Greater Texoma Utility Authority. “These folks had a vision. They took surface water from Lake Texoma and added to the coffers of our cities. This deal does not happen without Sherman’s water.”
The Sherman mayor finished his time at the podium by talking about the economic impact for the city of Sherman — $700,000 in water revenues and $300,000 in tax revenues to the city in the first year — and the potential the project brings to the community.
“This project is proposed to generate between $65 and $75 million in revenues for the county, the school district and Grayson College,” Magers added. “This particular investment is not big on jobs, it’s big on capital. Once the power plant is built, it will entice other businesses to come to this area. We’ll have the power to meet their needs and that in turn will create good high-paying manufacturing jobs.”
Phillips also spoke about the economic impact of the plant — and its sister facility being built in Temple — on the area and the state.
“Not only will we not have future economic investment coming here, plants will leave the state and go other places if we don’t have that ready reliable energy,” Phillips said. “These investments are huge. This is the thing that makes you breathe a little bit easier when you’re planning for the next 20 to 30 years.”
The executive from the plant’s energy engineer gave the crowd an idea of what they’ll be installing in the natural gas-fueled, combined-cycle power plant. Azar explained his company developed a reliable energy plant for use when renewable energy, such as wind and solar energy, falls short.
“We needed a reliable, on-demand power plant that basically could come online very quickly,” Azar said. “We have Flex-Plant 30, which is a 30-minute start-up plant, and we have Flex-Plant 10; it’s a smaller plant that could start up in 10 minutes. A grid operator, when they think there’s going to be a reduction in capacity from renewables, they can call on that plant to come online.”
Azar said Siemens already has a plant of this type in operation in California, and it’s working very well.
“I was trying to describe this plant in a few words and the best I could think of is you’re kind of getting a Cadillac with a BMW engine,” he said.
The Panda president was the last person to speak and started by asserting the plant will be completed by 2014. Carter then explained how his company chose Sherman as it’s newest location.
“Five years ago, as an organization, we recognized power was needed in the state of Texas,” Carter said. “We started doing a lot of due diligence and finding areas. The most important thing we looked for is community. We quickly found out that this is a community that’s can do, that wants to do something to make a project of this complexity happen.”
Carter thanked all the local agencies and individuals involved in securing the plant for Sherman and told Connell he expects SEDCO will be very busy with further growth over the next several years.
“This project will be a good corporate citizen for many years to come here,” Carter said. “And we look forward to when we have another celebration when we turn the lights on with energy coming from our plant.”
When finished, the plant will provide electricity to approximately 750,000 homes in North Texas.