The space shuttle may not lift off from Florida's "Space Coast" anymore, but an upcoming launch of new power-generation technology on a $970-million plant modernization near Cape Canaveral will raise the output of the state's largest electric utility while providing cleaner power, thanks to the first use of some of the world's most efficient gas turbines. Though set to go online June 1 as originally planned, construction of the 1,250-MW Florida Power & Light combined-cycle natural gas powerplant is running about six weeks ahead of schedule, despite serious labor shortages along the way.

The team credits the expected early finish in part to early installation of equipment. The transition of FPL's project manager and Zachry Inc. construction crews from a previous project in West Palm Beach to the Cape job also helped.

"There was a repeatability [between projects] that was an extreme benefit to both parties," says Dennis Donahue, FPL's construction project manager, who previously oversaw the West County powerplant job.

"We got a good jump and kept the pace up," adds Andy Power, senior project manager for the San Antonio-based Zachry. "It's been fast and furious."

The effort is the Juno Beach-based utility's first step in a planned transformation of its three oldest plants. The second is a similar, $1.3-billion reconfiguration, under way since last year, in Riviera Beach in Palm Beach County. Zachry also is building that plant. FPL expects to kick off construction of the final project, at Port Everglades near Fort Lauderdale, in 2014.

The projects, long in planning, are enabling FPL to make the leap from 1960s-era technology and fuel sources to natural gas. The fuel is quickly becoming the nation's preferred stock due to decreasing cost, increasing domestic supply and, relative to some other fossil fuels, lower emissions, say power market experts.

In its previous life, the Cape Canaveral plant—which FPL is renaming a Next Generation Clean Energy Facility—burned Number 6 fuel oil, also known as residual oil. The petroleum product has a high sulfur content and higher emissions than natural gas.

The switch to gas and the use of efficient gas turbines will give the new Cape Canaveral plant a significantly slimmer carbon footprint, though the facility will produce over 50% more electricity than the old 800-MW plant. The rate of carbon dioxide emission also will be 50% lower, and overall air emissions will be reduced by 90%, says Neil Nissan, an FPL spokesman.

Blast Off

In 2010, to make way for the modernization, FPL decommissioned the old plant and razed it by explosive demolition. Proximity to local businesses, including medical offices, made vibration transmission a concern, says Mark Loizeaux, president of the implosion contractor, Controlled Demolition Inc., Phoenix, Md.

CDI also factored in the likely increased vibration transmission from the site's high water table because of its adjacency to the nearby Indian River. To mitigate that, CDI sequenced—just seconds apart—the fall of the plant's two chimneys and equipment so they wouldn't hit the ground simultaneously.

First, CDI got the 300-ft-tall chimneys moving. Charges for one fired first, followed by a second set. The third and fourth detonations were fired at the base of the two boilers, also at slightly different times. The shorter boilers hit the ground just before the chimneys.

To drop the chimneys, CDI had to make them fall crisscross style within a roughly 20-degree arc of the property between an active oil tank farm and a new power line pylon delivering electricity to customers on the other side of the Indian River.

"Because [the space] was so narrow, we had to first fell one chimney, get it moving, and then drop the second chimney behind it," Loizeaux says.

To further reduce vibrations, crews excavated relief trenches around the site that went down to and below the water table and built berms to cushion impacts.

A ‘Stone’ Foundation

To prepare the site, contractors removed all underground duct banks and two separate sets of circulating water pipe. Except for existing piles, which were left in place for purposes of convenience, "anything that was buried out here, we pulled out," says Donahue.