Power Plant Groundbreaking Shows Big Things Happening in Small Places

In my March/April 2014 Commentary, I wrote about the contract signing between Mitsubishi Hitachi Power Systems and Grand River Dam Authority (GRDA), Oklahoma’s state-owned electric utility with headquarters in Vinita. On March 21, 2014, GRDA became the first electricity generator in the western hemisphere to purchase a Mitsubishi Hitachi 501 J series combined-cycle gas turbine. I wrote that the 495-MW plant was being built near my home and that I would share the progress with you.

On Jan. 23, I attended the groundbreaking with nearly 300 others. Some attendees, including David Walsh, Mitsubishi Hitachi Power Systems Americas’ president and CEO, represented the project’s major suppliers. Other companies represented were Black & Veatch (owner’s engineer), Hitachi HVB (electrical equipment), Nooter/Eriksen (heat recovery steam generator), TIC/Kiewit (construction) and Enable Midstream (natural gas pipeline). GRDA board members, state lawmakers, representatives from the Oklahoma governor’s office, mayors and city council members from towns and communities that purchase electricity from GRDA, as well as GRDA employees, attended. The local high school band played “The Star-Spangled Banner” and Oklahoma’s state song, to which we all clapped and sang. The reigning Miss Grand Lake, whose grandfather was a GRDA executive for many years, sang “God Bless America.”

My husband, local city councilman Will DeMier, at right, and I are pictured with Dan Sullivan, CEO and director of investments of the Grand River Dam Authority, during the 495-MW power plant groundbreaking in rural Oklahoma
My husband, local city councilman Will DeMier, at right, and I are pictured with Dan Sullivan, CEO and director of investments of the Grand River Dam Authority, during the 495-MW power plant groundbreaking in rural Oklahoma.

I’m fairly certain that many people at the groundbreaking were unaware of the significance of any utility, much less a fairly small public power utility, being the first in North America to break ground on this particular power plant. What could be even more significant is that this power plant is being built with no taxpayer dollars. Steve Spears, GRDA’s director/municipal representative, said that GRDA’s customers (municipalities, electric cooperatives and industrial customers) will pay for the new power plant.

“Our customers are our partners and have signed long-term supply contracts that run through 2042,” Spears said.

GRDA Board Chairman Tom Kimball said it was a great day for Oklahoma and GRDA. He talked about how GRDA’s and its customers’ foresight, commitment and teamwork made the project possible.

“We showed the rating agencies the strength of our customers; the people who had enough foresight to stand up and sign a 30-year contract with GRDA going forward,” Kimball said. “That is the kind of commitment it takes to make something like this happen.”

During my years as an editor in this industry, I’ve heard and interviewed many high-ranking industry leaders from around the world. I’m honored to have had those opportunities. I also consider this groundbreaking among those great opportunities-not because I was surrounded by nationally known industry leaders, but because I was surrounded by smart, hardworking visionaries from Small Town, U.S.A. These people represent the best of the best in our industry and our nation. They often go unnoticed except within their local communities. But as this project shows, they are as capable and resourceful as Wall Street bankers and Fortune 500 company board members.

I grew up in a small town and relocated to another small town. I’ve sometimes felt that my life might be more enriched if I moved to a more urban area. Events like this power plant groundbreaking, however, illustrate that big things don’t just happen in big places; big things are happening in small places, too.

I’m really glad I could attend this event. Kimball was right, it was a great day.

You can learn more about the project in the online-only article “GRDA Breaks Ground on Western Hemisphere’s First 501 J Series Gas Turbine,” which includes comments from my interviews with Walsh and CEO and GRDA CEO and Director of Investments Dan Sullivan.

Editor in chief

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