Billed as the cleanest and most economical of Baltimore Gas and Electric Co.'s power plants, Brandon Shore's new 642-megawatt electric generator is anything but quiet.
The rumbling hum of the massive General Electric turbine -- powered by 250 tons of coal an hour -- easily penetrates the foam rubber earplugs BG&E officials require guests to wear.
Yesterday, the utility opened the doors of Brandon Shores Unit II, which it switched on May 28, to reporters and photographers.
Theturbine deck is spotless and the containment room is cool, especially considering that the steam which drives the turbine reaches 1,000 degrees Fahrenheit.
But the noise is penetrating.
"As long as the generators are on, the law requires we make you wear the ear protection," said Bob Ash, an operation supervisor leading yesterday's tour.
The generator is powered by low-sulfur coal, mined in West Virginia or Kentucky, hauled to Norfolk, Va., by railroad and shipped via barge to the mouth of the Patapsco River. The coal is unloaded onto amile-long conveyor belt that carries the fuel from a riverside pier to the plant.
The plant relies on the low-sulfur content of the coal to meet state and federal emissions standards, rather than costly environmental devices known as scrubbers, Ash said.
Local environmental groups have asked that scrubbers be installed. But BG&E has said the scrubbers would be too costly and would produce a toothpastelike sludge that would be difficult to dispose of safely.
Mary Rosso,president of the Maryland Waste Coalition, said she still is pressing the Public Service Commission to require scrubbers. BG&E officials said yesterday that the new unit meets most of the emission standardsset by the recently revised federal Clean Air law. But, they said, the utility will have to reduce its emissions of sulfur dioxide and other gases that contribute to acid rain at other plants in order to comply fully.
Spokesman Arthur Slusark said the utility is allowed, under the new law, to average the emissions at each of its plants.
Fly ash, which is left over after the coal is burned, is removed before it reaches Unit II's 700-foot-tall smokestack. The generator produces 400 to 500 tons of fly ash a day, which BG&E uses to landscape Brandon Woods, an industrial park being developed by one of its subsidiaries.
The unit uses 4.5 million gallons of water, supplied by Baltimore, each hour. The water is purified to remove any minerals thatmight pit the turbine blades. First planned as an oil-burning generator in the early 1970s, the unit's $662 million price will cost the average consumer about $2.90 per month.
Slusark said the coal-firedplant can produce electricity more cheaply than some other BG&E plants, which may be phased out.
A twin of Brandon Shores Unit I, which opened in 1984, the generator can power 6.4 million 100-watt light bulbs. The two Brandon Shores units together make up
one-fifth of the utility's capacity and can produce enough electricity to serve 125,000 homes.
The extra power will come in handy as summer approaches, typically peak time for electric utilities because of air conditioner use, BG&E officials said.
"Right now, we are a lot more confident going into this summer than we were last summer," plant manager Chet Lawrence said.