Plant Franklin: The Southern way

Southern Power Company’s Plant Franklin is about a two-hour drive from Atlanta, just off Lee Highway near Smiths, Ala. Of course the one thing Plant Manager Joseph H Rogers (known as Joey to just about everyone) forgot to tell the editors visiting the impressive generating complex was that virtually every road in the area is known as Lee Highway—and they all have signs to prove it.

“It’s just a game,” one of the edi­tors said. “Rogers just wants to see if we’re smart enough to find a pow­erplant by ourselves.” Directions are hard to come by in those parts because you can’t find anyone to ask, and even if you could, they surely wouldn’t talk to a stranger—particu­larly one with a New York accent.

Plant Franklin is a sprawling site with three 2 × 1 7FA-powered com­bined cycles in operation and foun­dations completed for a fourth (Fig 1). How could it not stand out in this abundantly green rural area? Sim­ple: Perfect location alongside the Chattahoochee River surrounded by forest on the other sides; low, clean stacks; quiet; ideal spring morning with minimal demand and not much more than a whisper of vapor from the low-profile wet cooling towers.

A call to the plant would not have helped, even if there was a cell tower in the area—and that was doubtful—because there was no way to explain to the person on the other end of the phone where you were. Plus, there was the obvious embarrassment of not being able to find a facil­ity of this size. Several wrong turns and a couple of security gates later and there it was, right where Rogers said it would be.

First impressions on a first-ever visit to a Southern Power generating station: spacious, well-groomed site; neat, in-line arrangement of assets; no frills, only what’s absolutely neces­sary to produce power efficiently and economically; safety the top priority. “No frills” means just that: Rogers’ office is “crowded” with three people, conference room has no high-tech amenities, etc. There are no people “milling about.” Total staff numbers 45—bare bones, it would seem, for a nominal 1900-MW plant.

Ask anyone who has been in the industry for more than a couple of decades what comes to mind when “The Southern Company” is men­tioned and they’d probably say some­thing like “a very large regulated utility with enviable in-house engi­neering and construction capabilities that relies on big coal and big nuclear plants to produce low-cost power.”

Today that’s only part of the story. Southern Power, The Southern Com­pany’s competitive generation subsid­iary has the parent company’s genes and a highly motivated workforce that acquires, builds, manages, and/or owns assets to compete in whole­sale markets. It owns and operates more than 7500 MW, with facilities in Alabama, Florida, Georgia, and North Carolina. An additional 820 MW is approaching the start of construction in Texas and North Carolina.

The name on the gate certainly has a lot to do with the “can-do” atti­tude that permeates Plant Franklin from Rogers on down. H Allen Frank­lin, who retired as chairman, presi­dent, and CEO of The Southern Com­pany five years ago, was a go-getter from the get-go. He joined the compa­ny as an engineer in 1970 and never stopped learning, completing the requirements for a master’s degree in electrical engineering in 1994 while president and CEO of Southern sub­sidiary Georgia Power Co.

Rogers was assigned to Plant Franklin as the O&M manager dur­ing construction of the first two units, which went commercial in June 2002 and June 2003. He was the first oper­ations person onsite. The plant was part of Georgia Power back then, later sold to Southern Power. After a few years at Franklin, Rogers was trans­ferred to the Oleander Power Plant in Cocoa, Fla, a 7FA peaking facility. After completing installation of the fifth unit at Oleander in 2007, he was moved back to Franklin to manage the facility and to commission Unit 3.

Most owner/operators attend­ing the 7F Users Group meeting in Atlanta last May would have benefit­ that would have been impractical for two reasons: (1) Insufficient plant staff to accommodate a large group of visitors, and (2) conference attendees who couldn’t escape for a round of golf were sequestered with represen­tatives of GE Energy, Atlanta, on the day of the visit.

The only practical alternative was for Rogers and Compliance Team Leader Eddie Argo to share some of their experiences with industry colleagues through the pages of the COMBINED CYCLE Journal.

The realities of competitive power

In the not too distant past, when almost all power generation was regu­lated, a major facility like Plant Frank­lin probably would have the same equipment at each unit. In the world of competitive power, plant owners are always looking for an edge, so equip­ment often is ordered at the last pos­sible moment—sometimes from a third party—to get the best possible price.

All the gas turbines (GTs) at Plant Franklin are from GE Energy, but only one steam turbine. The other two are from Alstom Power Inc. Likewise, two heat-recovery steam generators (HRSGs) are from Deltak, the other from Vogt Power International Inc.

In the regulated world, a utility requiring say 900 MW of new capac­ity might install two 600-MW units, knowing it would need the extra 300 MW within a few years. By contrast, merchant plants rarely are built with­out contract in hand. Case in point: Unit 3 at Plant Franklin was sched­uled for 2004 commercial operation, but a contract for its power was can­celed and the project put on hold until another customer could be found.

Lay-up. Several GT-based projects were postponed during the bust that followed the great bubble of 2000-2004. Several of those were stored on a unit basis; Southern Power handled Franklin 3 somewhat differently. Most of the equipment was delivered to the site before the cancellation, some after. The steam turbine remained where it was made, in Germany.

Southern’s engineering and con­struction group erected the HRSGs and sealed them from the elements, installing dehumidifiers to minimize the potential for corrosion. Dehu­midified plywood enclosures were built by the E&C group for the gas turbines and those were covered with weather-resistant canvas; generators were sealed and protected by a nitro­gen environment.

The Ovation® control system from Emerson Process Management was warehoused in one of Southern’s buildings in Birmingham. Motors and motor control centers were equipped with electric heaters and stored in a dehumidified environment along with pumps and other critical equip­ment. Piping and valves were pro­tected by a shed roof. Pipe ends and valve nozzles were capped.

All equipment, dehumidifiers, heaters, etc were checked weekly and rotating machines turned one-quarter of a revolution at the same time. Boil­er feedpumps were returned to Sulzer Pumps for inspection and warranty extension prior to installation.

When asked how effective this lay-up program was, Rogers pointed to an equivalent forced outage rate (EFOR) for Unit 3 of less than 1% in its first year of service as evidence that it met all expectations. The only black mark in the log book was a 230-kV breaker failure which had no lay-up implications. Enviable stat: The EFOR for all three units at Plant Franklin during the 2008 peak sea­son (May through September) was 0.54. The success continued in 2009, with a peak-season EFOR of 0.01; Unit 3 came in at 0.00.

Construction, commissioning

It took Southern and its general contractor, BE&K Power Group, a subsidiary of Houston-based KBR Inc (formerly Kellogg Brown & Root), only about 14 months to finish con­struction and get the plant commis­sioned by June 2008, Rogers recalled. Southern was directly responsible for construction management and com­missioning.

After a lay-up of more than three years, the HRSGs were washed with citric acid and passivated by Hydro­Chem Industrial Services Inc in December 2007. To facilitate this effort and to manage expenses, South­ern built a temporary holding pond onsite, treated the waste collected, and disposed of it. HydroChem also did the steam blows, Rogers said, and they were among the fastest he’s ever witnessed (Fig 2).

The commissioning process was completed quickly. All system checks done, the commissioning team had to wait for the appropriate weather conditions to verify power augmenta­tion and evaporative cooler capabili­ties. Unit 3 was designed to develop a nominal 550 MW without supple­mentary firing. When more power is needed, duct burners can deliver an additional 60 MW or so. Evap cool­ers operate with the unit in base-load service and the ambient temperature above 60F.

The “last card,” as Rogers refers to it, is power augmentation. This option will squeeze another 5 or 6 MW from a GT by injecting cold reheat steam into the turbine. Power aug is fully automated in the Ovation DCS. Note that the GTs are Mark V equipped, the steam turbine is controlled by Als­tom’s P400 control system.

Staffing up for a new unit sends shivers down the spines of some plant managers today given the rela­tively small reserve pool of qualified personnel, but not Rogers. He said they hire new people right out of tech school and put them through a com­prehensive work/study program over the next 18 months. Expectation is that they will pass the company test and achieve a higher classification. Work ethic and attitude are a big fac­tor in personnel evaluations.

New operations personnel were hired well in advance of commis­sioning and mixed in with existing staff on Units 1 and 2. A team was built from that pool for Unit 3 com­missioning. The entire plant staff is continually rotated among the units; no one has the opportunity to become complacent at Plant Franklin. There are only two classes of personnel at the large station: I&C techs (five for the entire site) and combination multi-craft (mechanical and electri­cal) technician/operators.

Rogers added that plant person­nel really did “grow” with each suc­cessive unit, so when it came time to commission Unit 3 it went off without a hitch. Plus, all of the enhancements made to the first two units to facili­tate O&M and improve safety were installed on Unit 3 during construc­tion or immediately thereafter.


Walk-around? A hike-around was more like it. Notebooks in hands, the editors wrote (and asked questions) while Rogers lead the tour. First stop, the control room for Units 1 and 2. The curved operator panel is divided in half, one side for each unit (Fig 3). It allows one person to navigate all the screens for two units. A special annunciator screen developed by plant personnel (upper right in photo) displays the alarms of greatest concern, facilitating staff efforts to take immediate corrective action.

The best of the best. Rogers stopped for a few moments over a cup of coffee in the control room to talk about an organization that he obvi­ously is very proud to be part of. Plant managers throughout the Southern system, he said, share experiences on a regular basis and provide a steady stream of best practices and lessons learned into the designs of the com­pany’s reference plants. He spoke of those reference designs as “liv­ing documents” that are continually updated and improved.

The payback: When it comes time to build the next unit, the collective knowledge of the entire organization is available for specification develop­ment; most of the post-commissioning mods that other plants require, and pay a high price for, are avoided.

Each plant in succession gets its 15 minutes of fame as “The Best of the Best.”

To illustrate, Rogers pointed to the walkways and work platforms so criti­cal to personnel safety that now are included in EPC contracts. “We paid to add them once,” he said, “but only once.” The platforms at different eleva­tions on the inlet air house to facilitate change-out of filters and one on the side of the HRSGs to access valves and drum-level transmitters are a couple of examples (Figs 4-6).

Water washing of GTs: sensitive subject when it comes to 7FAs. Rog­ers said Plant Franklin does no online water washes, only offline. He figures the optimum frequency probably is quarterly, but that must be balanced against the need to operate.

Low gas prices have his units running at high capacity factor and upwards of about 7000 hours on an annual basis. In some instances, they are dispatching ahead of coal-fired plants. This means he might only have the opportunity to offline wash his GTs two or three times this year.

Spent wash water is retained in a storage tank and trucked offsite for disposal, which is expensive. He questions the logic of this given that the plant now uses a biodegradable detergent. This illustrates the ever-changing nature of plant operations and the need for managers to ques­tion past practices and drive change where needed to improve perfor­mance and reduce costs.

Rogers was now off and running with the washing theme. He showed the editors the offline wash system, located in the white building in Fig 7, and explained that cleaning effec­tiveness depends significantly on the temperature of the wash solution. He believes that 180F is the optimum temperature.

However, the Plant Franklin wash­water heaters have a single solution tank that empties quickly during the washing process. Problem is that the cold water added to replace the washwater withdrawn rapidly cools the cleaning solution and adversely impacts cleaning effectiveness.

Principal equipment, Unit 3, Plant Franklin

Commercial operation: June 2008
EPC contractor: BE&K Power Group
Owner’s engineer: Self (Southern Company Services Inc)
Type of plant: Combined cycle
Key personnel
Plant manager: Joseph H Rogers
O&M manager: Jim King
Operations team leaders: Ron Ray, Kent Hall, and Chris Lane
Compliance team leader: Eddie Argo
Budget analyst: Bobbie Meszaros
Gas turbines
Manufacturer: GE Energy
Number of machines: 2
Model: 7FA
Control system: Mark VI
Combustion system: DLN 2.6
Fuel: Gas only
Water injection for NOx control? No
Steam injection for power augmentation? Yes, supplied from cold reheat
Air inlet house: Braden Manufacturing LLC
Air filters: Braden Manufacturing LLC
Inlet-air cooling system, type: Evap cooler
Manufacturer: Braden Manufacturing LLC
Generator, type: Hydrogen-cooled
Manufacturer: GE Energy
GSUs: Siemens AG (18/230 kV)
Manufacturer: Deltak LLC
Control-system: Ovation® (Emerson Process Management)
Attemperator(s): CCI-Control Components Inc
Duct-burner: Coen Company Inc
SCR: Wahlco Inc
Catalyst supplier: Haldor Topsoe Inc
Steam-turbine bypass valve/desuperheater: CCI-Control Components Inc
Water treatment
HRSG internal treatment, type: Ammonia
Chemical supplier: Cherokee Nitrogen Inc
Reverse osmosis installed? Yes (operated and maintained by third party)
Demineralizer installed? Yes (operated and maintained by third party)
Steam turbine
Manufacturer: Alstom Power
Model: MAD20
Generator, type: Hydrogen-cooled
Manufacturer: Alstom Power
GSU: Siemens AG (18/230 kV)
Balance of plant
DCS: Ovation® (Emerson Process Management
Condenser, type: Water cooled
Wet cooling-tower: Marley Co (now SPX Cooling Technologies Inc)
Cooling-water treatment system: Operated and maintained by third party
Boiler-feed pumps: Sulzer Pumps
Condensate pumps: Johnson Pump (now Sulzer Pumps)
Circulating-water pumps: Johnson Pump (now Sulzer Pumps)

One idea, continued Rogers, is to install an in-line electric heater to pre­heat makeup water to 120F, which will allow the existing heater to maintain the desired 180F solution temperature throughout the cleaning process. But this is The Southern Company and there’s always something else to do. The game plan is to install a gas-fired inline preheater on another unit and compare its performance to the electric heater that will be installed on Unit 3. The one that evaluates best will be installed on the third combined cycle and suggested for inclusion in the ref­erence plant design.

Equipment inspections. Plant availability is extremely important to most merchant power producers because you don’t get paid when you don’t run. And periodic inspections are critical to maintaining availabili­ty at the desired level. One of Rogers’ initiatives is to improve the capabil­ity of staff personnel to handle most of the general inspection tasks and to hire contractors only when specific expertise is needed.

He already has had HRST Inc train plant personnel to handle the majority of boiler-inspection tasks, both to reduce cost and to improve the staff’s knowledge of equipment it operates and maintains. Next, he wants to hone on-staff skills for con­ducting GT inspections.

Rogers is always willing to try something new if it offers a payback for success. Recently, the plant hired a third-party contractor to use digital x-rays for checking the condition of welds and pressure parts susceptible to various types of attack—such as flow-accelerated corrosion, under-deposit corrosion, etc. He came away impressed with the speed of inspec­tion (insulation does not have to be removed) and the quality of the imag­es used to make repair decisions.

Sharing operating data. You hear more and more today about the capabilities of predictive analytics for warning of impending problems and preventing forced outages and avoid­able damage. And it seems that any OEM or third-party contractor wor­thy of your GT repair business now has an M&D center to back up your operations team.

So the editors asked Rogers, “What special steps does Southern Power take to assure the continuity of its plant operations?” He said the company relies on OIS (for operation­al information system) from Aspen Technology Inc (aka AspenTech) to analyze real-time or historical data throughout the fleet.

Each plant analyzes its own infor­mation, he added, and all of South­ern Power’s generating facilities are interconnected so every plant can get information from its sister plants. Rogers then demonstrated this capa­bility, which is extremely beneficial because multiple parties can help investigate things that you can’t understand.

Furthermore, all plant personnel participate in at least one company-wide Operation Review Board. There are boards for just about everything, he said: I&C, GTs, steam turbines, generators, maintenance, etc. These proactive self-help groups “meet” by phone weekly to discuss any issues that may have surfaced throughout the fleet and share any updates on special projects that may have been assigned by the ORB leads.

“Our teams have extensive expe­rience in different backgrounds to address most of our issues,” Rogers added. “If we cannot solve a problem, we will seek advice from an outside vendor, in-house engineering servic­es, or the equipment manufacturer’s representative.” ccj