What should have been a joyous event for Lakeland Electric turned into a jaw-dropping moment when a rail car carrying one of six new $10 million Reciprocating Internal Combustion Engines (RICE) toppled onto its side Tuesday, along with a CSX train engine.
“Preliminarily, it looks like something caused the switch arm to be thrown,” said Cathryn Lacy, a spokesperson for Lakeland Electric. “The small but silver lining we have is this was the last one we were going to (install). So it gives us a bit of time to work with.”
She said the other five engines will be installed as scheduled and crews are “working around the clock to ensure the project continues to move forward with as little disruption as possible.”
David Holdener, Lakeland Electric project manager for the reciprocal engine plant, said the track, which is owned by the city, was built in the 1980s and has annual inspections and continuous maintenance. Holdener said the engine had some damage but is “absolutely” fixable.
“The initial inspection is that it’s 100% recoverable,” Holdener said. “The great thing about these engines is, if the engine block is intact, everything else can be fixed.”
Holdener said he was in surgery Tuesday when the accident happened.
“I woke up from surgery to pictures of this laying on its side and it was like, ‘Put me back under anesthesia,’” he said. “I was happy nobody got hurt. We had a really good team out here. There was no environmental impact, no damage to private property, and no one injured.”
The utility also said the engine is insured.
Lakeland Electric broke ground last year on the “next generation” McIntosh Reciprocating Engine Power Plant that will feature the six high-efficiency, 680,000-pound, natural gas-powered RICE engines. The plant is expected to become operational in fall 2024. The city originally budgeted $145 million for the project — which included $18 million for contingencies — but with inflation, labor shortages, and supply-chain issues, the price tag increased to $174.4 million.
Despite the derailment, work continued at a steady pace Friday morning under a bright blue sky. Workers were getting ready to remove the five other RICE engines off of the rail cars for transportation about 300 yards away to the new plant.
The engines had already traveled more than 4,000 miles via cargo ship from MAN Energy Solution’s manufacturing plant in St. Nazaire, France, to the Port of Tampa, and then moved onto rail cars for transportation to Lakeland Electric’s C.D. McIntosh Power Plant.
Each engine will have its own generator. One generator was already nestled into place and another was set to join it during an engineering ballet involving an extended-bed tractor trailer, a multi-story crane, along with a moveable crane within the new building, and moveable jacks.
Blue exhaust stacks have already been constructed.
Holdener said each engine will first be placed into a temporary tent, where a support structure will be built around it, and then it will be slid over to the new building. Turbo chargers will also be added to the engines for extra ‘oomph.’
All the engines, including the derailed one, should be in place by the end of November. The enormous building’s fourth wall will then be built to contain it all.
While the city was able to sign an agreement for the engine’s $10 million price before COVID shut down the world, Holdener said they are much more expensive now.
“We’re still building a very high-quality plant that’s going to serve the customers of Lakeland Electric very well,” Holdener said. “We’re just making sure everything goes well. When you have things like this happen, there’s bumps in the road.”
He said the main advantage to these engines is that they burn cleaner fuel, are not as loud, and start up and shut down much faster than the old engines, which are still used in the McIntosh plant. That means Lakeland Electric will be able to crank up an extra engine if needed during peak hours, like the morning rush to get out the door and the evening rush to return home.
The RICE engines, McIntosh Unit 5 and the Larsen Plant are all fueled by natural gas. Lakeland Electric has used liquid natural gas to generate the overwhelming majority of its electricity since decommissioning McIntosh Unit 3, its last coal-fired plant, in 2021 after repairs became too costly.
Once it starts operating, the RICE engine facility is expected to contribute 120 megawatts per hour to Lakeland Electric’s power generation as one of several sources of electricity. McIntosh Unit 5 is expected to continue operating for another decade, generating a capacity of about 359 megawatts per hour during the summer and 405 megawatts per hour during the winter.
LE also has smaller plants including the Larsen Power Plant, which generates 115 megawatts per hour. LE’s solar fields provide about 14.7 megawatts of power per hour and its diesel engines provide about 5 megawatts.
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