Legal & Regulatory

POWER Notebook: First Order for Novel Gas Turbine; Three Mile Island Accident Turns 40; PG&E Pushes Back on Judge’s Proposal

Siemens, Three Mile Island, and Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E) made notable headlines over recent days. Here is this week’s POWER notebook. 

Siemens Bags First Order for 41-MW Aeroderivative Gas Unit

Siemens on March 25 said it received its first order for its newest aeroderivative gas turbine offering—the SGT-A45. The buyer, Bayat Power, a subsidiary of Bayat Energy, Afghanistan’s largest energy exploration, development, production company, will install the 41-MW (at 50 Hz) trailer-mounted mobile unit at the  Bayat Power Phase 1 power plant. The project is the country’s first new gas-fired power plant project since the 1970s. 

The German conglomerate officially launched the SGT-A45 in November 2017, noting that it was designed for the world’s booming fast power market. Siemens’ gas turbine portfolio ranges from 4-MW to 450-MW turbine models, but it has seen flagging demand for its heavy-duty gas turbines, which are designed for large simple or combined cycle power plants. As the company told POWER, aeroderivative gas turbines, which were historically developed for use in aviation, offer flexibility, compact, and lightweight designs geared for high efficiency and fast-start capabilities. “The SGT-A45 mobile unit is fully tested and pre-commissioned in the factory, and its trailer-mounted design minimizes the amount of construction work required on site. As a result, the plant can begin producing electricity in only a few months and will be capable of supplying power for approximately 200,000 homes,” the company noted in a press release on Monday.

The SGT-A45 derives directly from the SGT-A65 TR, a 66-MW model whose design was first released nearly 20 years ago and was in turn based on Rolls Royce’s Trent 800 aero-engine technology. Siemens is marketing the unit as a highly standardized mobile unit—so small that it can fit on three trailers: one houses the AC generator, and generator lubrication and cooling systems; the second contains the gas turbine and ancillary systems; and the third, the unit control system, motor control center, and switchgear.

When it launched the offering, Siemens noted small gas turbines—of between 3 MW and 66 MW—are becoming an important part of the world’s rapidly expanding distributed generation segment. Demand is also growing for rapidly deployable mobile units in regions of the world where power is a scarce resource, such as in Afghanistan, which currently imports the vast majority of its power. 

The Afghani government approved the Bayat Power-1 plant in Jowzjan Province, northern Afghanistan, in April 2018. Power from the plant will be distributed through Da Afghanistan Breshna Sherkat, Afghanistan’s national power company. 

Marking the 40th Anniversary of the Three Mile Island Accident

March 28 will mark 40 years since the Three Mile Island Unit 2 reactor near Middletown, Pennsylvania, partially melted down. The accident continues to be viewed as the most serious accident at a commercial U.S. nuclear power plant.

Although the accident’s small radioactive releases had no detectable health effects on plant workers or the public, as the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) notes, the event brought about “sweeping changes” involving emergency response planning, reactor operator training, human factors engineering, radiation protection, and many other areas of nuclear power plant operations. It also caused the NRC to tighten and heighten its regulatory oversight. 

The accident was caused by a combination of equipment malfunctions, design-related problems, and worker errors. As POWER contributing editor Ken Maize remembers it (the accident occurred on his first day as a reporter for the Energy Daily): “As the event unfolded, it revealed the dirty management secret of nuclear power in those days. The people who ran the business were blinded by nuclear mythology and unable to either recognize the truth about the event at Harrisburg or acknowledge its significance.” 

Today, Unit 2’s reactor is permanently shut down and 99% of its fuel has been removed. Exelon Nuclear now owns the Three Mile Island Nuclear Station, and the company continues to operate the remaining single 871-MW pressurized water reactor. However, Exelon in May 2017 announced it would shutter Three Mile Island in September 2019 unless policy reforms are enacted in Pennsylvania. 

The company is actively lobbying for subsidies to keep that plant and others in the state open, noting they are “economically challenged due to market flaws that failed to value zero-carbon nuclear energy for its environmental and grid resiliency benefits.” And efforts appear to be gaining ground. On March 11, Pennsylvania state Rep. Tom Mehaffie, a Republican whose district is near Three Mile Island, introduced the “Keep Power Pennsylvania Act” (HB 11). The bill seeks to amend the 2004-enacted Alternative Energy Portfolio Standards Act to add energy from nuclear fission that is used to generate power. 

“Irreversible preparations” for the shutdown process at Three Mile Island are set to begin in June 2019, which adds to the urgency for a legislative remedy,” Mehaffie said in a press release. “We can’t wait another day to act on this. The hour glass is running low and peoples’ paychecks and utility bills are at stake. It’s time we finally acknowledge nuclear energy for its long-term employment, economic, environmental and grid resilience benefits. Let’s Keep Powering Pennsylvania!”

PG&E Pushes Back Against Judges Proposals for Wildfire Prevention

PG&E continues to push back against revised conditions proposed by a federal judge who concluded the company’s deficient safety efforts were to blame for a string of wildfires in Northern California in 2017 and 2018. In a court filing on March 22, the company said it cannot assure him of total compliance. The company “cannot monitor every tree at every moment of every day,” it said in response to conditions suggested by the judge on March 5. 

William Alsup, a judge in the U.S. District Court for Northern California who is supervising PG&E’s probation in the wake of its criminal conviction for the 2010 gas explosion in San Bruno, in January said he could order PG&E to remove or trim all trees that could threaten the utility’s equipment and possibly lead to wildfires. The judge said the work would need to be done by June 21. But earlier this month, he proposed requiring the company to fully comply with all vegetation management and clearance laws as part of its probation in the criminal case, according to ABC News. 

Earlier this month, meanwhile, PG&E issued its first wildfire mitigation plan as part of a new state law. As part of that plan, PG&E proposed to add more weather stations, increase vegetation clearance and power shutdowns, and harden infrastructure. 

POWER staff reports (@POWERmagazine)

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