Unit 5 is Lakeland Electric's single-biggest producer of electricity, accounting for 64% of the power it produced in 2022. | Lakeland Electric

After sitting idle for almost four months, Lakeland Electric’s single-biggest generator of electricity — McIntosh Power Plant Unit 5 — roared back to life last week.

The natural gas-powered unit, which produced 64% of the utility’s energy last year, lurched to a halt on Feb. 23 when a combustion turbine failed. The repair was long and costly, requiring the 50-ton rotor to be trucked to the Siemens facility in Charlotte, N.C. for reconstruction.

But $21 million later, and a few days ahead of schedule, the project is complete.

Plant manager Miles Dentler said the rotor returned to its home on the north shore of Lake Parker on May 25, strapped to a 115-foot-long trailer with 13 axles and 50 tires.

Over the next couple of days, Siemens millwrights and Lakeland Electric operations technicians got it loaded into the machine and began painstakingly reassembling it.

Finally, at 12:06 p.m. on June 19, came the moment of truth.

“It’s most equivalent to watching a shuttle launch in a movie,” Dentler said. “Many folks are in the control room, standing by, watching and waiting. It’s typically quiet, as everyone recognizes the focus level required of the control room operator.”

Unlike shuttle launches in the movies, Dentler said there wasn’t jumping and shouting as the combustion turbine first rolled up to full speed, because there are many sequential steps.

“Everyone knows many other systems are coming into play for the first time and many things can still go wrong,” he said. But there were definitely smiles as the machine got to full speed, without excessive vibration tripping the unit. 

Dentler said, as is typical when bringing a unit back online after a prolonged outage, they stopped and started it multiple times to “make balance moves and add balance weights,” tuning it to ensure it was running properly.

Lakeland Electric is a member of the Florida Municipal Power Pool and Unit 5 was officially “released to the FMPP” at 9:20 p.m. on June 22, meaning it is capable of generating electricity not only for its own customers, but for other municipalities that might need to purchase power.

Utility spokeswoman Cathryn Lacy said, to date, Siemens has invoiced $17 million of the budgeted $21 million cost. 

“The repairs were completed as planned with no additional discovery during reassembly,” she said. “We do not anticipate any surprises in the remaining $4 million to be invoiced.”

She added that while the unexpected breakdown was frustrating, the utility is making the best of it.

“During the downtime, we took the opportunity to perform necessary maintenance to the unit, which enabled us to reduce our 2024 work scope,” she said. “We have successfully installed the new turbine rotor, but you could compare the remainder of the outage to an extensive automobile engine overhaul that extends your powertrain warranty by one year without affecting the bumper to bumper warranty.”

The city plans to pay for the repairs with a $70 million bond issue. The bonds will also cover the cost of purchasing power from the Orlando Utilities Commission during the outage and a $29.4 million cost overrun on a new power facility with six reciprocating natural gas-powered engines.

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Cindy Glover moved to Lakeland in 2021 after spending two decades in South Florida. Her career has included journalism, education, digital marketing and public relations. She worked for the Albuquerque Journal and South Florida Sun-Sentinel and spent a year as a community engagement coordinator for the City of Lakeland before joining LkldNow.

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