HISTORY: 25 years of Western Turbine

Before incorporation        After incorporation        Legislative drivers of GT technology  
The LM engines        A turbine salesman remembers

Editor’s note: “It is an interesting and challenging proposition to look back over time. Remembering and reconstructing events, like beauty, is in the eyes of the beholder. However, there are circumstances that demand a look back, and, typically, these circumstances are related to people whose contributions have made, and continue to make, a difference. And that describes WTUI to a tee. Since its inception, it has been a group of people with a mission and that mission has been all about adding value.”

These words from Sal DellaVilla, CEO, Strategic Power Systems Inc, provided motivation for this section covering the many facets of WTUI history: the pre-incorporation years, the years since incorporation, the legislation that both stimulated and impeded industry growth and technology development, and the LM engines themselves.

WTUI 25 LogoWTUI has a history primarily because of people like Wayne Kawamoto, Mike Raaker, DellaVilla, Mark Axford, Steve Johnson, and a few others who have been around since before the beginning of organization, have good memories, took good notes, and are loathe to deposit in the circular file anything that someday might be of value. All were of the opinion that the 25th anniversary offered the perfect reason for compiling a historical perspective on the world’s largest independent user organization dedicated to gas turbines.

As you read the next few pages, keep in mind that the company and plant affiliations sited are consistent with the timing of the reference. In some cases, the individuals mentioned are still employed by those organizations, in others the companies may no longer exist, or plants have been renamed.

Before incorporation

The history of WTUI dates back about 10 years prior to incorporation. During the late 1970s, the US was challenged with oil and gas shortages and record-high fuel prices—much of this caused by wasteful energy practices. Remember when automobiles were averaging 9 mpg and some power boilers were operating at efficiencies as low as 60%?

In 1978, President Jimmy Carter signed into law the Public Utility Regulatory Policies Act (Purpa), aimed at correcting some of the problems. For the first time, utilities were required to purchase electricity from qualified cogenerators at a price equivalent to what it would have cost the utilities to produce the same power with their least-efficient equipment. This had two effects: It forced the utilities to shut down marginal equipment and it ushered in the era of high-efficiency cogeneration facilities.

The 15-yr power-purchase contracts typical of that time were particularly advantageous to companies with processes having fuel-to-product efficiencies of 80% or more. The Northeast and West Coast, saddled with the highest energy prices in the nation, were the prime locations for cogeneration plants. GE, one of the first companies to recognize this opportunity, began marketing its Turbine Business Operation’s LM2500 package, initially capable of 17.8 MW. In the early 1980s, GE introduced the LM5000 package, capable of 50 MW.

Utilities were not going to take all this laying down. Concerned with the ability of small energy producers to provide electricity reliably, and consistently, they developed a set of strict rules that created a lot of pain for someone entering into a contract and failing to meet the requirements. Example: Failure to meet the 80+% availability requirement at the contracted capacity could result in the loss of a month’s revenue; in the extreme it might require repayment of annual profits.

During the first few years of Purpa, the number of cogeneration sites on the West Coast grew dramatically—each usually having a unique process to earn Qualifying Facility status. However, the turbines, packages, and processes did not start and run as expected. GE engines were very good at operating for short periods, with a rest to perform maintenance.

But most sites were required to run for weeks—sometimes months—without a shutdown, depending on the process supported. Starter failures, igniter liberation, fuel-nozzle failures, etc, caused many sleepless nights for the operators as well as the OEM. Both parties stood to lose considerable sums if the turbines and packages could not be made reliable.

GE found itself running from site to site trying to put out fires and keep the owners from defaulting on their contracts. Generating units on both the East and West Coasts were experiencing the same types of failures, making it obvious that owner/operators needed to share best practices and lessons learned among themselves and with the OEM.

GE’s business leaders—like Bill Baker, Mike Hynd, Dan Harmon, and Horace Magely—were traveling cross country regularly to support their customers. To differentiate between the two distinct groups of owner/operators, the OEM began to refer to them as Western Turbine Users (WTU) and Eastern Turbine Users (ETU). The acronym WTUI came to being after the group formalized and incorporated in 1990.

To share information, users gathered at each other’s sites for tours of the equipment and to share individual experiences. GE was always part of these meetings. The host site would supply meeting space and usually lunch or dinner. The group began with four attendees, growing to eight, 20, 40—about the point it was no longer feasible for a single operator site to manage and fund the quarterly get-togethers.

As far back as I can remember, GE hosted a sales and customer appreciation meeting in Cincinnati—years later, in Houston—which usually culminated with a relaxing team-building event. Many productive relationships among GE personnel and users were nurtured during these three-day meetings.

Many of the temporary fixes and improvements made by operators to keep their sites running in the early years were reviewed by GE and many became permanent fixes for all sites. A major contributor to fleet availability and reliability improvement was the sharing of parts. Each participating site would generate a list of its inventory and share that with the other participating sites.

We could get parts to each other much quicker than GE. This worked very well when the group was small, but it got a bit cumbersome as the group grew and some folks “forgot” to return parts. Parts-sharing continues today, but on a more personnel basis.

Package improvements were another benefit of user meetings. Example: Owner/operators realized turbines could fire hotter and produce additional power just by “turning up the wick.” Output of the LM2500 increased from 17.8 to 21 MW over the first few years with very little hot-section life reduction. The increased revenues more than paid for the additional wear and tear on parts.

Plus, many cost-effective repair and overhaul procedures were developed working with small authorized repair facilities—like Batch Air Inc. Some of those were borrowed from aircraft procedures and became standard, authorized repairs for combustors, blades, nozzles, bearings, and frame parts on land-based machines. They reduced the cost of operating LM engines by a significant amount.

The option to use repaired parts versus new parts and expecting GE to warrant the engines was became an issue with the OEM in the early years. That was understandable: Users were installing remanufactured parts, and if they failed during the shop warranty period, GE was responsible for the damage.

Users were in hands-on creative mode, continually developing new repair procedures and bringing on innovative vendors that developed such improvements as the Orange Box (individual T-54 thermocouples), longer-lived repairs for bearings and combustors, etc; some were adopted by GE as time passed.

As the number of LM sites grew, WTUI came to be recognized as the place to learn and benefit from both GE and other owner/operators. As the organization expanded, the cost of managing conferences was more than any one company could support. This forced WTUI in 1990 to begin the second phase of its history as an incorporated business. It permitted dues collection, golf outings, tennis tournaments, evening entertainment, and other managing tools that have made WTUI the world-class organization it is today.

Mike Raaker, WTUI historian/ambassador

A turbine salesman remembers

In 1980, Mark Axford of Houston-based Axford Turbine Consultants LLC, arguably the most recognizable non-user at Western Turbine meetings, was selling Allison gas turbine/generator sets and compressor sets for Stewart & Stevenson (S&S). He told the editors: “We had limited success; Solar gas turbines were significantly less expensive and manufactured with shorter lead times.”

In 1981, S&S received an order for three LM2500 gensets for a platform offshore India. Suddenly, S&S was in the big leagues—a GE-authorized “packager” offering nominal 20-MW gensets with a unique single-lift design. While there was no competition from Solar at 20 MW, S&S did have competitors. Its biggest rival was GE’s heavy-frame Turbine Business Operations Div. TBO had senior management’s approval to offer packaged LM2500 gensets. However, its sales team went to great lengths to convince customers that a Frame 6 or Frame 7 gas turbine was a better fit for their needs.

WTUI 25 History, Axford

The LM2500 was too small for most US utilities, so S&S focused on its Houston connections in oil and gas and other industrial segments. “We worked hard to sell the single-lift design and full-load factory test to EPC customers such as Fluor, Bechtel, Parsons, and Ebasco,”Axford said. “S&S had a streamlined organization and could sell an LM2500 genset at a lower price than TBO,” he remembers.

Plus, EPCs liked doing business with a smaller outfit—one with more flexible business terms and conditions. S&S won its first LM2500 order in the US in November 1982. The engine was installed the following year at the Hawaiian Independent Refinery Inc by Ebasco Constructors.

Wayne Kawamoto was assigned general responsibility for the cogen unit at HIRI. “Even though Wayne was in his 20s,” Axford remembers, “he was about to get his first gray hair.” The LM2500 fuel system designed for HIRI was complex. It handled a variety of rich and lean liquid fuels along with a water injection system for NOx reduction.

Kawamoto said the gas turbine would have to light off on diesel fuel then switch over to naphtha fuels which had higher vapor pressures. The complexity of switching fuels at high loads was a design never done before and as such that one gray hair was like a weed in manure. It grew out of control!

There were many trips during commissioning. “I remember visiting the refinery in 1983, escorting a prospective customer to show him the great S&S design,” Axford said. “We were in the control room when Wayne Kawamoto popped in and announced: ‘Cogen is down again, not sure how long it will take to get back on line.’”

Kawamoto and Axford became good friends, despite the reliability shortfalls during that first year. “Like many customers, Wayne was resourceful: He found his own solutions to technical problems when Stewart & Stevenson and GE could not provide answers fast enough,” Axford recalled. Kawamoto found out about two other LM2500 sets packaged by TBO and installed in California during 1982: One at Proctor & Gamble’s Oxnard plant; the other at Federal Paperboard’s Los Angeles mill. These gensets had simpler fuel systems, but some of the same problems discovered in Hawaii. Example: Instrument connector plugs that failed, in part, because of excessive heat in the turbine compartment. Kawamoto shared some of his homemade solutions and started participating in the informal users group that would later become known as WTUI.

Both GE and S&S maintained a close collaboration with LM users to improve the designs of the engine, controls, and package auxiliary systems. S&S began using Woodward controls and fuel valves. It also redesigned the engine compartment with more ventilation air. Subsequent S&S LM2500 packages for Sunlaw (Los Angeles) and United Airlines (SFO) had noticeably better reliability.

The California cogen plants were very lucrative for owners because Standard Offer contracts offered by the utilities provided firm and bonus capacity payments on top of electrical sales revenues priced at the utilities avoided cost. Summer capacity payments were substantial and supported the financial structure of these projects. The two Sunlaw LM2500-powered combined cycles were operated and maintained under contract by S&S, and Sunlaw shared the summer availability and capacity earnings with S&S. This strengthened the linkage among the owner, operator, package builder, and engine manufacturer.

The success of LM2500- and LM5000-powered cogeneration plants in California during the 1980s caused the technology to spread to other areas of the US, and Canada, in the 1990s. In 1991, GE introduced the LM6000, offering users another engine option. About that time, TBO threw in the towel and S&S became the premier package builder of LM-series gensets. A few years later, in February 1998, GE bought the S&S turbine business.

As the aero-engine market expanded, users worldwide came to know WTUI as a forum run by turbine users for their mutual benefit. It was clear that WTUI discovered more problems, and identified better solutions, than OEM-dominated forums.

Leaning back in his chair, Axford offered his thoughts on why Western Turbine continues to be so successful. “Today,” he said, “you can find a user’s group for just about any make and model of gas turbine. But WTUI differs from most in that its bylaws and agenda are 100% controlled by turbine users. The annual conference has a podium shared by GE and competing service shops. Users compare notes on problems and solutions and share their findings with the OEM and service community. This superior recipe created by Western Turbine has stood the test of time. Customers like it . . . it’s that simple.”

After incorporation

I will always remember the chain of events that led to the introduction of Strategic Power Systems Inc (SPS) to three of the founders of the Western Turbine Users: John Tunks, the organization’s first president (California Cogeneration Operators Inc), Ernie Soczka (Destec’s San Joaquin Cogen), and Bob Fields (Container Corp of America). The meeting took place at Ricky’s Hyatt in Palo Alto, Calif, in fall 1990, just prior to WTUI’s incorporation. The number of GE LM units operating in cogeneration service, especially in California, was rapidly increasing because of the Public Utility Regulatory Policies Act (Purpa).

Existing users, who already were meeting at various plants, wanted a more formal structure to support the expanding base of operators. They understood new users would require operating knowledge and experience, and would share their desire for continuous product improvement.

They also understood the need to establish and follow a uniform process that the Western Turbine Users, as an organization, could use to track and report the availability and reliability performance of the LM5000 and LM2500 fleets. The objective was to have unbiased and accurate data to document the performance of their gas turbines and plant equipment. The users wanted data and metrics they could share among themselves, and with GE. SPS hoped WTUI would agree that ORAP® (for Operational Reliability Analysis Program) was the system they needed.

The first link in the chain of events was a call I received from Lou Pasquarelli, an old GE friend. Lou explained that both the Western Turbine Users and the GE Marine & Industrial business unit (today a part of GE Power & Water’s Distributed Power business) were interested in tracking the reliability and availability of the LM product family to support the expanding user base.

He suggested I contact John Campbell (now deceased) who was GM of the Customer Service business unit to discuss the opportunity. John understood the market for the LM product line was growing and recognized that for continued success, product performance had to meet customer expectations. He recognized the benefits ORAP offered and invited me to Cincinnati to present the system. Afterwards, he decided that GE would fund and use ORAP to cooperate with and support the Western Turbine Users—cooperation and support that continues today.

In due course, John, Larry Lewis (then the GE point of contact, now retired), and I made several plant visits in California to introduce the LM users to ORAP. From the Shasta mountain range to Santa Clara, from Los Angeles to Bakersfield, the goal was to grow user participation on the ORAP system, and to begin the reporting and feedback process.

The objective was to obtain and process plant data as quickly as possible and to show meaningful results. We were on our way. We had the strong endorsement of GE and the Western Turbine Users, and our job was to demonstrate and add value for the users.

WTUI veterans know that the success of this conference did not just happen by accident. The word “serendipity” does not apply to WTUI. Its success has been built on the efforts of dedicated people with vision and a long-term commitment to their industry—and to each other. Now, after 25 years of hard work, a meeting that started out in a few plant conference rooms has been transformed into a world-class conference that attracts a global audience.

The first meeting attended by SPS staff was Sacramento, March 1991. There were 130 registered attendees—including users, vendors, spouses, and guests. The board of directors included Tunks (he had moved on to Stewart & Stevenson Services, S&S, by this time), Soczka, Fields, Jim Hinrichs (Sithe Energies), Wayne Kawamoto (Wheelabrator Norwalk and WTUI treasurer, an office he continues to hold), and Steve Johnson (Simpson Paper, Shasta Mill).

At that meeting, Hinrichs became the WTUI president, a position he was to hold for 17 years. Other founding members of the organization who were present included: Mike Raaker (Proctor & Gamble), Jack Dow (Sithe Energies), Jim Bloomquist (Chevron), and Brian Hulse (Destec Bakersfield). Tom Christiansen of SPS was given the opportunity to present to the users and to solicit their participation on the ORAP system. The goal was to add more users on ORAP and to produce a formal data analysis and report as soon as possible.

The first ORAP report went out to both participating users and GE in June 1991. It included data from 24 operating plants representing 19 LM2500s and 14 LM5000s, and provided an overview of the reliability metrics that the users desired—including component causes of downtime and engine removal rates.

Interestingly, these LM units operated with very high service factors (greater than 85%), and had hours-per-start ratios ranging from 135 to 250 hours per start)—exactly what you would expect from cogeneration units. At the time, SPS had a commitment from an additional 20 operating plants to join and participate on the ORAP system.

Newsletters. From January 1993 through February 1994, WTUI and SPS issued monthly newsletters to all participating members that discussed various technical topics or other items of interest. In the February 1994 newsletter, for example, Johnson wrote “LM5000 Compressors: Cold-End Problems.” He had already provided an article of interest on “LM5000 Lube Oil Chip Detection,” where he informed that “a chip detection system is a very vital tool.” Another article by Kawamoto on “Enhanced Steam Injection” addressed an approach that Wheelabrator Norwalk implemented for improved NOx abatement.

In the early 1990s, “fall mini conferences” were held to address specific technical issues. For example, Hulse, a board member at the time, arranged a conference at the Pacific Suites Hotel in San Luis Obispo, where issues such as gas-path coatings were discussed. The idea was to add value for the user community by regularly publishing newsletters and conducting mini-conferences.

ORAP. By the time the first newsletter was issued, ORAP participation had grown to 40 plants and new people were getting involved. The January 1993 edition notes that Brent Newton had joined the board, while the terms of both Soczka and Fields were ending. The visionary founders of WTUI had laid the groundwork for the inevitable changing of the guard. WTUI was preparing for change.

Looking through these newsletters offers a memorable trip back in time. To illustrate: In February 1994, items of interest included the following:

      • Announcement that Hulse had submitted the winning design for the WTUI logo, which still is in use today.

      • Jack and Gae Dow were identified as the “go-to” team regarding the 1994 conference in Las Vegas.

      • SPS would begin taking and issuing notes for each of the LM product line breakout sessions, a practice that continues today.

Breakouts. From the beginning, the two and a half days of breakout sessions covering each LM product line have provided the foundation for sharing knowledge and solving problems. These invaluable sessions provide the opportunity for users to openly discuss installation and commissioning issues, O&M concerns, lessons learned, and the opportunities for plant improvements.

Technical discussion covers the engine, package, controls and all ancillary systems. The intent is to share and document, thereby creating a history through the notes of relevant and meaningful “real life” experiences to help the operating community improve as a group.

Over the years, discussion leaders for the breakout sessions have included Jimmie Wooten (DPS Juniper), Frank Oldread (Destec), Johnson (K&M Services), Grant McDaniel (Carson Cogen), Joel Lepoutre (S&S), Roy Burchfield (Sithe Energies), Norm Duperron (Bonneville Pacific Services), Mel Murphy (Kingsburg Cogen), Bob Anderson (Florida Power Corp), Charlie Hoock (Calpine), Kevin Koszalka (TGB Cogen), James Hardin (El Paso Cogen), and Bob Mason (Goal Line LP).

Also, Rich Frank (GECS Camarillo), Chuck Casey (Goal Line LP), Bob Nelson (SMUD), Chris Kimmich (Nevada Cogen), Bill Lewis (PPL), John Baker (Calpine), Bryan Atkisson (City of Riverside), James Charles (Ripon Cogen), Mark Breen (Wood Group), Chuck Toulou (Ripon Cogen), Don Haines (Panoche Energy Center), David Merritt (Kings River), Andrew Gundershaug (Calpine), Perry Leslie (Yuba City Cogen), and Jason King (DGC Operations).

The hard work and dedication of the discussion leaders is what makes the breakout sessions so successful and meaningful. Plus, the technical sessions have been strongly supported by GE and the depots, adding to their value.

Winds of change. WTUI conferences continue to grow annually, providing opportunities to renew old friendships and establish new ones. Equally important, the conference attracts a significant percentage of new users and attendees each year who bring fresh ideas and perspective vital to long-term health.

Continuing growth testifies to the hard work and dedication of the organization’s leadership, and to the increasing value and need for face-to-face information exchange. Such success, however, brings change and occasionally presents very real challenges to the relatively small group of volunteers who make WTUI happen.

President Jim Hinrichs and the officers and directors in place during the first few years of the new millennium faced significant challenges as the need for WTUI’s services increased markedly while the duty cycle for the LM sector of the industry was migrating from base- to part-load generation and there was a question as to whether GE could continue to support WTUI with the same commitment as they had in the past.

The good news was growing conference attendance, which went from an average of 470 in the 1996-2000 period to 667 from 2001 to 2005. In the last four years, the average attendance was 787 (Fig 1). With this success came the difficulties associated with venue selection; relatively few locations can accommodate groups of this size. Plus there were the additional work loads associated with registration, meeting attendee expectations, etc. More hands were needed; the volunteers could no longer do everything.

WTUI 25 History 1

Both the organization and its owner/operator members were forced to adjust to market influences. The once dominant cogeneration market was contracting; units were operating fewer hours per start and they were beginning to cycle. SPS verified the market shift using ORAP data that the company provided for the Combined Cycle Journal’s report on the 17th annual conference in Phoenix.

SPS stated in that report, “Two operating profiles are distinctly visible: A base-load duty between 1995 and 1999, and a cycling duty between 2002 and 2006. The years 2000 and 2001 appear to be a transition period where the shift in duty cycle began.” ORAP data also indicated that annual service hours had decreased by more than 40% comparing the new paradigm against the old. Further, that service hours per start had decreased by about 60% and the number of annual starts had increased—all as gas prices were spiking.

As the duty cycle was changing, the LM6000 and LM2500 solidified their positions as the product lines for growth, and component life, coatings, and emissions were the issues that had to be addressed.

Growth of depot support. It was during the market evolution that GE communicated to the board that it would not be able to sustain WTUI support at the same levels as in the past. The board took that in stride, solidifying its relationships with the depots and redoubling its efforts to assure that the annual meeting’s technical content, and the currency and relevancy of issues covered, would continue to meet expectations.

Larry Flood (EPCO), Rich Recor (Sithe Energies’ Greeley), Mike Horn (Calpine), Mike Pankratz (FPB Cogen), Joe Campanelli (Air Products), John Cates (Globeleq), Robert Kofsky (Modesto Irrigation District), and others put in extra hours to ensure that WTUI’s mission would be sustained.

Always all about people. When SPS was located in upstate New York, a major benefit of the conference’s timing was the opportunity to fly to the West Coast for a week and leave the bitter cold behind. Often, we would leave in a snow storm and return to a snow storm. The opportunity to participate in the Sunday golf or tennis event coordinated by the users (Hinrichs, Kawamoto, Bloomquist, and Ronnie McCray) always was a highlight.

My golf was bad (and still is), but the chance to catch up with old friends and the opportunity to make new acquaintances made it easy to laugh off the comments on my game. Golf with guys like Mark Dobler (Fulton Cogen), Jim Murray (Fulton Cogen), Tony Thorton (Turbine Technology Services), Ron Brooks (United Cogen), Don Haines (City of Santa Clara), Roy Davis (GE), Wayne Feragen (City of Colton), Mike Kolkebeck (City of Colton), Don Driscoll (SSOI), and others always provided the welcome opportunity to mix business with pleasure (Fig 2).

WTUI 25 History 2

The formal event begins Sunday afternoon with the New User Orientation, which is followed by the opening of the exhibit hall. Jack Gunsett (Kinder Morgan) conducted the orientation for years, eventually passing the baton to Oldread, who later put it in Bob Boozer’s (Reed Services) hands. The goal of the session is to introduce first-timers to LM engines, terminology, nomenclature, and other hands-on knowledge and experience to prepare them for the discussions that would take place during the breakout sessions beginning Monday morning. SPS also participates in the New User Orientation to introduce ORAP.

Monday morning the conference begins (Fig 3). Members look forward to the first session and to the ritual handing-out of much-desired WTUI jackets awarded to those users at the session whose names are pulled from the fish bowl.

The months of preparation by the board, the breakout-session chairs, and the depots (Air New Zealand Gas Turbines, MTU Maintenance, TransCanada Turbines, and IHI) kick the conference into high gear. Western Turbine is about organizations and people who see value in what the user group offers and provides, and they want to be a part of it. As the exhibit hall fills with friends, family, and colleagues, the mood is good-spirited, and all are ready for business and a fun time.

WTUI 25 History 3

In our industry, there are many conferences and user groups, all founded with a desire to add value. And they do. But WTUI is special. It is celebrating its 25th year not just because of the desire and need to share information and knowledge, but rather because it is genuinely focused on the user.

There is a strong sense that the full WTUI membership is interested in fleet performance. By helping to drive improvement fleet-wide, members improve their own plants. Competition among users exists, to be sure; however, there is a very real sense that the WTUI membership wants the term “best in class” to apply to the whole fleet. And they want unbiased third-party data—data available through ORAP.

The hard work and effort that has carried WTUI to its 25th year is a significant feat, and SPS has had the pleasure of supporting the group for most of those years. It is clear that WTUI has a strong commitment to excellence, and a clear vision for continually adding value for its membership. In sum, WTUI is special—not only for its service to the users, but for the users’ service to it.

Salvatore A DellaVilla Jr, CEO, Strategic Power Systems Inc

Legislative drivers of gas turbine technology: An anecdotal history

Today’s gas turbine technology is a product of many things. As applied in electric power generation, one of those things is regulation, the deregulatory variety and re-regulatory variety. From the first salvo in the deregulation of natural gas, circa 1970s, to today’s euphoria around domestic shale-gas supply, regulatory actions and turbine technology advances have enjoyed a symbiotic relationship. Here’s a blow by blow, decade by decade.

1970-1979. In broad terms, the end of this decade proved to be the inflection point for changes to the domestic energy landscape. Landmark federal environmental regulations, most importantly the Clean Air Act (original act, 1970; important amendments, 1977) and the Clean Water Act (1972), were passed.

The nation suffered through two oil embargos (1973, 1978), which also, along with legacy industry regulations from the 1930s, created shortages of natural gas. In 1979, the accident at Three Mile Island (TMI) occurred, which led to a progressive regulatory gauntlet that would eventually put the nuclear industry in a coma for two and a half decades.

No new nuclear units—most of the planned ones cancelled and protracted completion cycles for those under construction—and the beginning of the environmental gauntlet around coal set the stage for the emergence of natural gas as a force in electricity generation. But not without some fits and starts.

From a turbine technology perspective, though, the most important pieces of legislation all came within the decade’s last three years:

      • The Natural Gas Policy Act (NGPA) of 1978 initiated (but still with restrictions) the deregulation of the wellhead price of natural gas, allowing it to adjust with “market forces.”

      • The Public Utility Regulatory Policies Act (Purpa) of 1978 opened up the generation market to non-utility entities as long as their facilities met certain size, fuel, and efficiency criteria.

      • The Fuel Use Act (FUA) of 1979 prohibited utilities from using natural gas, a response to the oil crises and need to husband natural gas for heating homes and businesses, and as an industrial raw material.

Together, these three legislative acts drove the rise of gas-fired cogeneration and independent power facilities. Purpa’s efficiency threshold was low (a “joke” many would say)—a minimum of 5% of the fuel input had to be directed towards beneficial thermal use. This led to a flood of gas-turbine-based cogeneration plants at industrial facilities, as well as a flood of combined cycles which could meet the thermal output but still primarily make their money selling electricity to the local utility. Purpa mandated that utilities offer long-term contacts to “qualifying” facilities for most, if not all, of the plant’s electrical output.

1980-1989. Meanwhile, California, often a land unto itself when it comes to energy, had already created the conditions which made it difficult to build coal-fired plants in the state (so the state’s utilities built them outside the state and shipped the power in, or contracted with others for the power).

California embraced the Purpa concept, and even began applying it to tiny power systems called at the time “packaged cogen,” a retread of the total energy systems popular in the late 1960s/early 1970s, pre-OPEC oil embargo. Applications for turbines and engines as small as hotels with swimming-pool heaters came into being under the California version of Purpa.

The FUA was repealed in 1986. As importantly, Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) Order 436 changed the interstate gas pipeline business, essentially forcing “open access” and allowing consumers (especially large consumers like powerplants) to purchase gas at low wellhead prices and contract for shipping to their facilities. In 1989, FERC passed the Natural Gas Wellhead Decontrol Act, which essentially finished what the 1978 act started.

In sum, the electricity and gas production and delivery value chains were being deregulated. One way to look at this is that the chain was being pulled apart, so that new entities could, or so the theory goes, focus on applying and leveraging efficiencies by focusing on one aspect. Meanwhile, coal plants were wrestling with massive new subsystems on the back end—scrubbers and selective catalytic reduction units—and trying to absorb the associated costs. Nuclear was still in a coma.

1990-1999. This decade would be marked by more landmark deregulatory initiatives, but also more specific moves in California, a massive demand crunch, and even more onerous rules on coal plants.

In 1992, Congress passed the National Energy Policy Act (NEPA). If Purpa cracked open the generation part of the value chain, NEPA cracked open electricity transmission. In 1996, FERC passed orders 888 and 889, both establishing open access to electric transmission lines.

Practically, this meant if you wanted to buy electricity from one supplier, one or more utilities were obligated to sell you transmission service to move those electrons to where they would be consumed. In 1996, California began the first grand experiment in retail electricity competition.

Amendments to the Clean Air Act (CAAA), passed in 1990, not only forced more coal plants to add scrubbers and SCR but placed a new emphasis on NOx, air toxics, and interstate transport of air pollutants. Adding to the aggravation of coal advocates, EPA and its judicial, legal, and environmental advocates began to wield a new threat from a legislative tool in the 1977 CAAAs, called New Source Review. NSR made it extremely difficult—in many cases, impossible—for coal-plant owners to expand output at pre-1977 facilities, or even make major repairs; otherwise, they could be judged a “new source” and subject to addition of emissions controls similar to new units.

As if that wasn’t enough, the specter of carbon regulation reared a head that got uglier and uglier, from the first significant Congressional hearing on Global Warming in 1988 (height of the summer and the AC in the building was not functioning) to the Kyoto Protocol in 1997.

However, the new NOx rules, combined with more stringent ones in California and other states, set up a ratcheting effect. Seemingly, each new gas-turbine project, showing it could meet a lower NOx level, caused the next project to meet a still lower NOx level.

The industry found itself in a “how low can you go?” environment, or a circle dance among the gas-turbine suppliers, the architect/engineers for these now privately financed IPP and merchant projects, and the various state and federal permitting agencies. These facilities were being permitted at lower and lower levels before the preceding group of turbines demonstrated performance.

Concurrently, new IPP/merchant generation companies and their financiers fell in love with gas-turbine efficiency gains, which would make the project pro forma more attractive (and the debt service paid off that much quicker). Soon, the turbine suppliers were carving each other up for the next order.

But machine design was being stretched to the ragged edge of combustion stability and metallurgy. The initial consequence was F-class machines being hauled back to depots and repair shops regularly from points around the world and insurers refusing to play ball for new projects. A complete crisis of confidence was averted mid-decade when the vendor-driven long-term service agreement (LTSA) entered to make the cost of overhauls and premature repairs, at the very least during the years of debt service, “predictable.”

All of this might have been digestible, except towards the end of the decade, when an economic boom (and concurrent wildly ambitious electric demand projections), the rise of digital computer and telecommunication technology, darn close to unfettered competition in electricity supply, and end-of-millennia psychology, conspired to bring the party to an abrupt end (by the standards of an infrastructure industry anyway).

2000-2009. Moves by FERC in the previous decade, and subsequent ones, laid the groundwork for regional and/or state “independent system operators” (ISOs) and regional transmission organizations (RTOs). Movement of electricity between a buyer and a seller was now, from a transactional perspective, in the hands of a single entity for large states (ERCOT in Texas, CAISO in California, NY-ISO in New York) and for large regions (PJM and MISO). Traditional utilities were still responsible for the physical transmission infrastructure.

The penultimate consequence of 20+ years of gas and electricity market deregulation, private financing of powerplants, choking environmental restrictions on coal, and a somnambulant new nuclear business was the addition of approximately 200,000 MW of gas-fired capacity between 1999 and 2004. With few exceptions, gas-fired units became the only option that could optimize among all the constraints imposed on a new project. As the decade moved on, wind and solar facilities, taking advantage of generous federal tax credits, renewable portfolio mandates, and state-level incentives, began to challenge gas.

Most of that 200,000 MW was in service, under construction, or far along the development pipeline by the end of 2001, after California’s grand experiment in electricity markets imploded and a once-small pipeline company, later called Enron, became a household word. In six short months, Enron’s CEO went from being so familiar in the halls of power he was called “Kenny Boy” by President George W Bush, to declaring bankruptcy.

Enron’s demise took with it a significant chunk of the merchant and IPP business with it. Many issues were at play in the calamitous California market experiment but one of the most egregious was that the market experts deregulated the wholesale market while protecting the retail ratepayers, essentially bankrupting the traditional utilities, caught in the middle.

It took the industry some years to swallow all that added gas-fired capacity. Units built and designed for base-load operation, taking advantage of ever lower heat rates and output gains from advancing turbine technology, operated more like peakers until the end of the decade, when the shale-gas revolution brought the forward price projections down, in the words of one utility executive, “as far as the eye can see.”

The CEO of one of the largest gas-fired project developers (today the largest owner/operator of said plants) had been saying at the beginning of the decade that gas would displace coal even in coal country. It would take a decade, but that vision eventually came to fruition.

2010 and later. The gauntlet around coal, which began in 1977, is worse today than ever, with the Obama Administration’s enactment of carbon-emissions reductions. Existing coal units are being retired or mothballed in droves.

Nuclear found a way to “get up on one knee” when four new units found their way to construction (also taking advantage of generous federal subsidies, in this case loan guarantees), but the old bugaboos of construction cost and schedule overruns and catastrophic events overseas (Fukushima) have returned and promise to haunt the industry.

Costs for wind and solar have declined substantially. In the meantime, existing nukes have difficulty competing against GT plants with low-priced gas supply and renewable plants with generous subsidies and must-take contracts. Strangely, we have a case in this country, most prevalently in California, of “supply destruction,” environmental and market-based economic burdens that can no longer be tolerated for many otherwise perfectly sound coal units and a significant number of nukes.

At this point, one could rightfully speculate that, unless carbon capture and sequestration (CCS) technology enters the picture soon (though not likely on a commercial basis for at least another decade), generation in the future will be characterized by two types of plants: Those that can run 24/7 (and in some cases 365, or close to it, if need be) and those that run at the pleasure of the wind and the clouds. Gas-fired units likely will predominate in the former category.

Jason Makansi, president, Pearl Street Inc

LM engines

The early history of GE land and marine (LM) gas turbines began in the late 1950s and continued through 1970. It started with the introduction of a few small LM products and the larger LM1500 gas turbine. The latter was derived from the OEM’s popular J79 fighter engine, widely known for its thousands of applications in the US Air Force (USAF) and the US Navy’s (USN) F4 Phantom fighter. The initial LM1500 application was aboard a hydrofoil ship.

In 1969, GE launched the LM2500, a nominal 20,000-shp gas turbine based on the TF39 engine, which powered the USAF’s largest transport aircraft—the C5 Galaxy. The first ship to use the LM2500 turbine for main propulsion was the GTS Admiral W M Callaghan (AKR-1001). Two LM2500s replaced the twin-screw vessel’s non-GE first-generation turbines, which had been installed only two years earlier.

After several successful USN applications—such as on the Spruance and Ticonderoga classes of ships—the first LM2500 industrial application was on a pipeline, in 1971, followed by the first power-generation application in 1979. The LM2500, with its versatile free power turbine, high efficiency, light weight and high reliability, quickly became the oil-and-gas (O&G) industry’s engine of choice for pipeline compression and oil platform power applications.

The need for higher output led to the introduction in 1996 of the LM2500+ engine, which eventually was rated a nominal 42,000 shp. Essentially a turbocharged base LM2500, the “plus” engine has found widespread acceptance in the O&G industry. It has an additional HP compressor stage in front of the original Stage One. Also, the plus has more-capable hot-section materials and other refinements.

Further technological improvements led to the introduction of the fourth generation LM2500+G4 engine, with a nominal rating of 46,000 shp. Today, there are well over 2400 engines from the versatile LM2500 family operating worldwide. Applications include propulsion of naval, ferry, and cruise ships; power generation; O&G platforms and pipeline and LNG compression—a testament to the LM2500’s longevity and success.

In 1978, GE introduced the LM5000, a larger machine based on the company’s CF6-50 aircraft engine, with a nominal output of 38 MW. More than 100 of these workhorses were produced. The LM5000 has a twin-spool gas generator driving a free power turbine. Many LM5000 units are still in service and are specially favored in cogeneration applications. They laid the foundation for an even bigger and vastly more successful engine to come.

In 1988, GE introduced the LM1600 for small-pipeline applications. The high-performance engine has a two-spool gas generator and a free power turbine. Like the LM1500, it was derived from a fighter aircraft engine—GE’s F404 engine powering the F/A-18 flown by the USN and Marines. About 100 of these units are still in service.

Building on the LM5000 experience, GE recognized the success and potential of aero engines. In the early 1990s, it saw a market for a larger power-generation machine.

In 1991, the innovative LM6000PA was introduced: It could drive an electric generator either from the cold end or the hot end. This GT was based on GE’s highly successful CF6-80C2 engine, which powers many wide-body aircraft—such as the Airbus A310 and Boeing 747/767 models. The LM6000 family quickly grew to the PC model, which is a higher-output engine, rated a nominal 43 MW.

Today, the family includes a PG single annular combustor (SAC) model rated a nominal 54 MW and a PG Dry Low Emissions (DLE) combustor model rated a nominal 48 MW. There are now more than 850 LM6000 units worldwide, serving in a wide variety of applications—including base-load and peaking power generation, combined cycle, cogeneration, and mechanical-drive LNG.

In the early 2000s, US interest in an efficient 100-MW-class gas turbine capable of fast starts and load-following ability gained traction. GE developed the LMS100 engine to meet these needs. It used some parts and technology from GE’s heavy-duty frame gas turbines and the company’s latest aircraft engines. Examples: 6FA compressor technology is used in the LMS100’s LPC, while the HP compressor and turbines are derived from the CF6-80E1 aircraft engine.

The LMS100 has an all-new lightweight two-stage intermediate-pressure turbine and a five-stage free power turbine for operational flexibility. The engine also is intercooled—that is the LP compressor discharge air is cooled before it enters the HP compressor. This is largely responsible for the engine’s high efficiency and makes it one of the most efficient simple-cycle gas turbines in the world. The first LMS100PA (SAC) unit was commissioned in the US in July 2006. Today there are more than 50 of these units in service; the expectation is that many more will be installed in the next five years.

The business side. In the years since the first LM engine was introduced, the actual management of the business itself has undergone several changes. Up until the late 1990s, the LM business was commonly referred to as GE Aeroderivative Engines, and was an integral part of GE Aviation.

At that time, the LM business became part of GE Power Systems, then GE Energy, and today GE Power & Water. While the LM engines still are manufactured by GE Aviation in Evendale, Ohio, the aero product line is within the company’s Distributed Power business and part of the GE Power & Water portfolio along with the Waukesha and Jenbacher gas-engine product lines.

Despite all of these organizational changes, GE’s commitment to WTUI has remained steadfast over the last 25 years.

In the early days of the LM business under GE Aviation, the company’s primary focus was on manufacturing engines and parts. GE worked with some of its authorized airline engine repair shops and convinced them to take on the responsibility of repairing the new LM engines in-shop. Over time GE also worked with its packagers—they built the powerplant around the gas- turbine core—to develop service and repair capability. These firms included Stewart & Stevenson Services, Kverner, Thomassen Stewart & Stevenson, Avio, IHI, and MTU.

The early-1990s meetings, where a group of WTUI users banded together to see if they could help each other out, were pivotal in making the LM product successful and gaining it wider industry acceptance. They were key to exchanging operational experience, creating the back and forth dialogue around areas of improvement, new and evolving matters, and the solutions developed. There were numerous frank discussions between the users and GE at that time. Some of the key GE players: Rudy Garza out of the Ontario shop, Jim McDonel from Cincinnati engines customer support, and Shaun Riley as one of the engine product-line leaders.

The WTUI conference had product-line breakout sessions in which the GE team prepared and presented all of the material for the engine experience and matters, and package sessions, where the material and areas of improvement were presented by the packagers.

In the mid-1990s there were some fruitful discussions around the LM5000 engine. Over a period of years, Paul Maciulewicz, Jim Gardner, and Kumar Khemchandani from GE, and Mike Pipes from S&S, were right in the middle of these discussions. Some of the product improvements were tested at customer facilities—like the Destec sites around Bakersfield, where GE worked very closely with Brian Hulse; Fulton Cogen, where GE worked with Mark Dobler and Jim Murray; Sithe Energy with Rich Recor; and many others. They were supported from the S&S side by some expert engineers like Randy Kleen, Michael Williams, Harley Ross, Robert Baten, and Jack Patton, and later on by a young and energetic field controls engineer, Nick Voorhis.

In the late 1990s, GE began acquiring some of its authorized packagers and services providers, moving to a more direct end-user service model, which improved direct communications with customers. In the opinion of many people, the removal of an intermediary on significant matters helped improve communications, and ultimately increased GE’s direct accountability to its customers, which benefited many users.

With the reintroduction of the GE-sponsored users conferences in the early 2000s, each organization was focused on providing the best support to the LM users, and they needed time to work through how they could each accomplish this shared goal through different meetings.

It was during this period that the responsibilities for assembling the material and presenting during the WTUI engine product breakout sessions shifted from GE to several of the company’s authorized service shops. GE instead focused most of its support efforts on creating content and leading the engine and package breakout sessions for its own users conference. Even during this period, GE continued to send a key but limited group of members of the services and sales teams to attend the WTUI conferences and meet with the users.

After a few years, and right after the conclusion of another successful Western Turbine conference, some of the WTUI board members (including Jon Kimble and Jim Hinrichs) approached GE to talk about improving GE’s visibility and support of the WTUI conference. This was an opportunity for both groups to speak fruitfully about their future together.

Since then the two organizations have continued working closely with each other to find ways that GE and WTUI can best support end-users. This close cooperation now includes GE booths at WTUI staffed by numerous GE technical and product experts, and GE product-line-specific materials and presentations given to end-users and authorized service providers during WTUI.

Most recently, at the conclusion of GE’s own 2014 Americas User Conference in Orlando, GE announced the date and location for the 25th annual Western Turbine Users conference, and further suggested that the customers attend that valuable session—clearly a sign of good cooperation.

Madhu Madhavan and Mike Pipes, GE Power & Water/Distributed Power, with Gil Badeer,
Tayo Montgomery, Rick Hook, Preetham Balasubramanyam, and Kumar Khemchandani

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