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New natural gas generator engine delivered to Berlin

By Morgan Pilz, Staff Writer

(May 21, 2020) The replacement for “engine two” at the Berlin Power Plant on William Street was delivered last Friday.

After nearly a year of work, the replacement engine, a natural gas genset (a combination engine and generator) built in Lafayette, Indiana, was brought in by Alban CAT Power Systems, now called Carter Machinery.

“This is one of the few generators of this type,” Account Executive for Carter Machinery Jack McKenna said. “They are built in the United States. It’s all custom built.”

Last July, the second engine out of four that run the generator was taken out of commission when a piston connecting rod failed on the 16-cylinder engine at the William Street plant and knocked a hole in the side plate of the engine. The engine was at least 20 years old.

By Morgan Pilz
The new natural gas engine is delivered to the Berlin Power Plant on William Street, Friday, May 15.

“This new engine is actually going in bay number three instead of bay number two, where the original engine failed, because it makes more sense because it’s got a lot more room to it for that engine to fit,” Electric Utility Director Tim Lawrence said. “Once it’s installed, they’ve got a lot of other work to do.”

Chesapeake Utilities will be installing a natural gas line from the street to the building. In the future, the plant plans to convert all of the engines from diesel to natural gas.

The plant, which was established in 1956, was built to accommodate five diesel engines with a total production capacity of 10 megawatts of electricity. The oldest engine in the facility is a 1961 Fairbanks Morse motor, which is still in service.

The plant allows the town to provide electric power during times of high electric demands, which allows Berlin to forego the high electric costs of the power grid.

“Normally, there’s five engines in the plant,” Lawrence said. “Out of those five, number one, four and five engines are all working. Number two engine failed in July, number three engine failed back in 2004 but it was never replaced.”

The department conducts peak-shaving events when the draw for electricity for the town is unusually high, which occurs around 10 to more than 20 times during the summer. The second engine had failed after running for eight consecutive days as a result of high temperatures.

Peak-shaving is a way for town ratepayers to save money because, by using the local generators, the electric utility has to purchase less power from providers. Typically, the town saves around $550,000 per year using peak shaving.

The failure happened when the department was running peak shaving times. The engine typically runs from about 2-6 p.m.

When the engine failed, four backup generators that combined generate two megawatts, also provided by Carter Machinery, were temporarily installed to offset the loss.

The new engine will run on natural gas instead of diesel like the other three engines, he added. Diesel fuel costs $2.30 a gallon as opposed to $1.80 for natural gas.

“It’s important to us about the emissions into the air,” Lawrence said. “The Department of the Environment, they’ve been involved in this since the beginning. The census of power plants, which involves emissions, we contacted them to tell them we wanted to go with natural gas and get away from diesel, which they were very pleased with, and that got [greenlit] pretty quickly.”

The engine that failed in July will remain in the power plant as scrap metal, Lawrence added. In the event another engine is in need of parts like wires, gears or other important pieces, working parts will be removed from the failed engine as replacements, which will save the town money in replacement part costs.