$1.3B Combined-Cycle Natural Gas Plant Opens in Illinois

August 28, 2023 by Shannon Cuthrell

A 1.25-gigawatt natural gas-powered combined-cycle plant recently came online in Illinois. The $1.3 billion project offers a low-emitting source of electricity generation to ease the transition to renewables.

A 1.25 gigawatt (GW) natural gas-fueled combined-cycle electric generation facility recently came online in Illinois, serving power to more than 1.25 million homes and businesses in the Goose Lake Township area, about 60 miles south of Chicago. 


Competitive Power Ventures started constructing Three Rivers combined-cycle natural gas facility in 2020

Competitive Power Ventures started constructing Three Rivers combined-cycle natural gas facility in 2020. Image used courtesy of CPV


The Three Rivers project uses “clean-burning” natural gas and features two 7HA.02 combustion turbines from General Electric, two heat recovery steam generators, and two GE A650 stream turbines to optimize efficiency. 

Maryland-based Competitive Power Ventures (CPV) heads up the $1.3 billion project, billing it as among the world’s “most efficient and lowest emitting” plants of its kind. Three Rivers’ reduced carbon footprint equates to removing over 300,000 cars from the road every year, according to the company. 


Renewables and the Demand for New Electric Capacity

The Three Rivers combined-cycle natural gas plant covers 30 acres on an 80-acre site. It’s co-owned by Osaka Gas USA, a subsidiary of Japanese gas supplier Osaka Gas Co., and three investors: Texas-based Concord Infrastructure Investments, Chicago’s Harrison Street, and Canada-based Axium Infrastructure. CPV, which is majority-owned by Israeli energy firm OPC Energy, has other combined-cycle facilities in New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Connecticut, and its home state of Maryland. 

CPV selected the site for its proximity to two 345-kilovolt (kV) transmission lines and a substation. It’s linked to the PJM Interconnection system and gets its fuel from a Kinder Morgan natural gas pipeline that crosses the area. Its water comes from on-site wells. 

The new plant adds some much-needed dispatchable capacity to PJM’s service area, overseeing transmission across 13 states. The organization has warned of plant retirements outpacing the entry of renewables on the grid, forming a critical resource gap challenging the U.S.’s ongoing transition to clean energy. At an annual meeting in Maryland earlier this year, PJM mentioned that 265 GW of projects seeking interconnection with the system are intermittent in nature. 

The Energy Information Administration (EIA) reported last year that three new combined-cycle gas turbine plants totaling 3.9 GW were on track to open in PJM’s region. Those additions would assist in replacing the 9.1 GW of coal capacity set to retire in 2022 and 2023. 


What Is Efficient Combined-Cycle Generation? 

A combined-cycle electric generator uses an efficient assembly of combustion turbines in which the hot exhaust from the turbines generates additional electricity through a steam turbine. Such systems are often used to replace inefficient power plants and supply the on-demand generation needed to integrate intermittent renewables – such as solar panels and wind farms – into the grid. 

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, natural gas combined-cycle units generate around 40% of the greenhouse gas emissions per megawatt-hour of power output compared to traditional coal-fired units. 

A significant amount of natural gas generating capacity was built in the 2000s, including lower-emitting natural gas combined-cycle plants – prompting natural gas’s share of electricity generation to rise to 39% as of 2022. Over the years, the electric power sector has steadily reduced its emissions by replacing higher-emitting coal-fired plants with more efficient natural gas-fired ones. 

According to CPV, Three Rivers’ combined-cycle technology and H class gas turbine is around 30-40% more efficient than older baseload generation systems. Its air-cooled design cuts water use by 90% compared to a wet-cooled facility. 


General Electric’s 7HA.02 gas turbine

Three Rivers combined-cycle plant uses General Electric’s 7HA.02 gas turbines. Image used courtesy of GE


The project is among the 7.5 GW of new natural gas capacity expected to be added to the grid in 2023, as the EIA reported earlier this year. That includes an 83% share of combined-cycle plants. Others include Ohio’s 1.8 GW Guernsey Power Station, which recently started delivering electricity to over 1.4 million homes in PJM’s market. 

Eight new natural gas-fired combined-cycle gas turbine plants came online in 2022, adding 7.7 GW of generating capacity and reversing a four-year drop in plant start-ups within this category. The EIA estimated that combined-cycle turbine capacity would reach nearly 290 GW by the end of last year, or around one-fourth of U.S. generating capacity.


Combined-cycle natural gas turbine plants are adding new capacity in the U.S.

Combined-cycle natural gas turbine plants are adding new capacity in the U.S. Image used courtesy of the EIA


Such plants can help meet the nation’s growing electricity demand and replace retiring coal fleets throughout the energy transition. The EIA projects that 4.2 GW of combined-cycle gas turbine capacity will be added across five new plants in 2023.