JWA scores on power play

John Wayne Airport can now mostly rely on itself for power, after firing up four generators to produce up to 7 megawatts of electricity.

Officials on Thursday morning dedicated a $31-million central utility plant at the south end of the airport.

It will provide 95% of the airport's energy and a steady stream of cool water for the air-conditioning system. Part of JWA's $540-million expansion and improvement program, officials say the plant was designed to save the airport energy costs in the long-run, and to be self-reliant.

"It's nice Southern California Edison is our backup, and not vice-versa," County Supervisor John Moorlach said after the ceremony. "I think it's good planning."

The plant's fundamental components are its four Cummins natural-gas fired internal combustion engines. About the size of a small bus each, they pump out 1,750 kilowatts.

JWA purchased the engines in 2004, and had to spend around $1 million to meet current air quality regulations, said Alan Murphy, the airport's director.

Other changes during construction caused the budget to more than triple – from an estimate of less than $10 million when the airport purchased the generators – to more than $30 million today.

Murphy said the main reason for the higher cost was a decision to increase the plant's capacity. Also, while designing it, airport officials considered placing the machinery in a new parking structure, but ultimately decided to build the facility on its own. Plans had to be redrawn.

Today, its new building looks like a well-landscaped concrete cube with some ducts on the roof. Inside, a maze of steel pipes and gauges surround the massive, rumbling green engines.

Their excess heat is captured and converted again to power six "chillers." Along with producing electricity, the "co-generation" plant creates chilled water to cool the airport.

Southern California Edison will supply the remaining 5% of the electricity, and could supply the entire airport in emergencies.

Construction began in September 2009 and was completed late last year.

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