Dixon Illinois Power Tour 2002

originally a Duke-Fluor Daniel project

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 of the sign).

eight peaker GE gas turbines

This is the plant looking east 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.

looking west at the plant

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.

the plant from the Nachusa Road bridge over the Tollway

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

Nelson Energy Project entrance

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.

crane activity at the site

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 (four "one-on-one" units). Each train (GE 7FA gas turbine/HRSG/steam turbine) was rated at 275 MW, the nominal total plant rating would have been 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 project page. What isn't mentioned in these two items is that two of the four 1-on-1 combined cycle units for this project were being relocated from the Nelson site. What was left near Dixon? In 2007, plans were 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 2014 Invenergy project page. Which must be an old photo, as it shows all 4 HRSG's...including the 2 that were presumably shipped to Canada. See my 2011 photos below.

Nelson power plant aerial view

Update #4...during my July 2011 visit to Dixon I again drove past the plant site. Things were still pretty moribund, although there was a bit of activity in the warehouse (white building on the west side of the plant...at right in front of the two tanks in the above photo. I presumed that was preventative maintenance activity.

the west entrance to the plant
Looking from the west side of the plant--there was some activity visible inside that warehouse building.
Fluor craft parking entrance
A bit further north on the west road, the Fluor craft parking entrance sign was still there.
the north side of the plant in 2011
Further north on the west road, there are only 2 HRSG's visible.
the south side of the HRSGs
And from the south road, it's obvious that there are only 2 HRSG's present, as the other ones went to Canada.

Update #5...in 2014 construction is proceeding apace on the 2 one-on-one units, and the methanol plant idea had been abandoned. As of April 2014 there were 200 workers on site, with completion scheduled for the first quarter of 2015 (April 2014 Dixon Telegraph article).

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 procured the then-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)), and it began commercial operation in 2008. But Duke still owned the Lee County peaker as of mid-2007...but it was sold to Dynegy in 2014, along with 10 other plants...including two Ohio plants I worked on--the Washington Energy Facility in Beverly, and the Hanging Rock plant north of Ironton (2014 Duke Energy press release).

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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