Lack of turbines may stall Calif. plan to boost power : LUSENET : Grassroots Information Coordination Center (GICC) : One Thread

Lack of turbines may stall Calif. plan to boost power Monday February 26, 1:14 PM EST By Leonard Anderson

SAN FRANCISCO, Feb 26 (Reuters) - A fast-track plan to add badly-needed megawatts to California's power-starved grid by this summer's high demand period may be slowed by a shortage of generating turbines.

Gov. Gray Davis touted a report last week by the California Energy Commission identifying 33 potential sites for new "peaking" power plants to be up and running by July 31, in time to help the grid feed the state's big appetite for summer air conditioners and avoid blackouts.

The small, mobile plants which typically produce 50 to 250 megawatts of electricity, would be run only during periods of peak power usage -- usually in the late afternoon hours in summer heat waves.

The commission's report showed, however, that most of the projects have not secured the turbines need to make electricity and face other hurdles before they can link to the grid.

"I am determined to get as much power online as humanly possible by this summer," Davis said in releasing the report.

But power industry analysts are not convinced the governor can deliver. "The peaker program has set aggressive goals and objectives, but it will be a real challenge to meet them on time," said one official at a private builder of power plants.

Only 14 -- less than half -- of the potential 33 sites have turbines available, but that does not mean the equipment has been acquired for each plant, according to the commission.

The agency has identified 21 new and 30 used gas-fired turbines available for the peaker program, ranging in price from $40 million to $50 million per unit. Used turbines, however, typically pollute more and are less efficient than newer ones.


Peaker plants are in strong demand in many regions to help meet summer loads on the grid. The New York Power Authority, for example, is installing 11 turbines at seven sites in and around New York City to boost capacity this summer by 500 megawatts.

Utilities often have to scour markets in Asia and Eastern Europe to find used units.

Many of the California plants also need construction permits and have to build connecting lines to the power transmission grid and the natural gas pipelines needed for to fuel the plants.

Owners of the plants also must negotiate contracts to sell the power to the state's Department of Water Resources.

That agency has replaced near-bankrupt utilities Pacific Gas & Electric, a unit of PG&E Corp. (PCG), and Southern California Edison, part of Edison International (EIX), as California's main electricity buyer under Davis's actions to end the state's energy crisis.

The 14 plants would pump about 1,000 megawatts -- enough electricity for about a million homes -- onto the grid.

Nine of the projects would be built in northern California, which has borne the brunt of the state's grid woes.

California desperately needs new power supplies to meet strong demand from a growing population and the state's robust economy.


Dangerously low levels of power reserves have hobbled the grid since last summer, forcing state officials to call emergency alerts and twice last month order rolling blackouts to stabilize the transmission network.

The January blackouts -- plus one last June in the San Francisco area during a record heat wave -- have hit the northern half of the state the hardest because a transmission bottleneck in California's Central Valley snarls electricity flowing from the south to the north.

Davis wants to add more megawatts to strengthen the grid by 2002 and 2003, when new large-scale units are expected to join California's fleet of generating plants and boost reserve supplies.

In the meantime, California will need to step up conservation efforts to cut electricity usage this summer.

Davis has raised his conservation target from a 7 percent reduction to 10 percent -- enough electricity for nearly five million homes.

-- Martin Thompson (, February 26, 2001


Looks like the case of the Phantom turbines. For those old enough to remember 'The shadow knows'

-- Martin Thompson (, February 26, 2001.

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