Once again the developers of GE’s path-breaking closed loop steam cooled H System have had to put the champagne back on ice. But, with luck, this won’t be for long. A few months after celebrations to mark commercial operation of GE’s first H System, the 50 Hz machine at Baglan Bay in Wales, the long awaited site for the first 60 Hz version (the 7H) was announced (see pp 17-20). This was Hydro-Québec’s Suroît, where a twin unit 836 MWe combined cycle plant, due to be operational in 2007, is planned.

The announcement of this milestone site (on 13 January) was seen as a major triumph for the H technology following cancellation of the first proposed 7H project, Sithe Energies’ Heritage plant, due, it was said, to a decline in electricity demand.

Unfortunately, the jubilation was short-lived. On 12 February the Québec government, caving in to mounting criticism from environmentalists, political opponents and “even some liberals”, announced that it was putting the project on hold and had requested a study, to be carried out by la Regie de l’Energie, the Energy Board. The purpose of the study, which is to be completed by 30 June and will include public hearings, is to look at Québec’s energy needs up to 2010 and to determine whether the new natural gas fired plant is really needed.

Rather surprisingly there seems to be a view that this question was not fully addressed in the original approvals procedure, which has been going on for at least three years (suggesting, by the way that the approvals system is not very good).

For many regions of the world, natural-gas-fired plants in general and the highly efficient H System in particular would be seen as a good clean option for electricity generation – and indeed, as noted last month, Hydro-Québec cited Canada’s commitment to Kyoto as a factor in its choice of H technology. But, with abundant hydro resources, this is a part of the world that is used to essentially emissions-free power generation. With around 97 per cent of Hydro-Québec’s electricity coming from water power, the new 7H plant, which would be Québec’s first baseload gas-fired station, is seen by its opponents as an unnecessary polluter.

However Hydro-Québec is in the enviable position of facing substantial load growth, and believes it needs the new gas fired plant to meet it. This view was borne out on 15 January, for example, when electricity demand hit an unprecedented high of 36 274 MW. “For the first time, Hydro-Québec had to meet an electrical energy demand in excess of 36 000 MW. The previous record, 35 818 MW, had been set that very morning,” announced the utility. With the wind chill factor bringing the temperature down to minus 41°C in parts of the province, and about 75 % of domestic heating being electric, this is not somewhere where you want to find yourself short of generating capacity, if at all possible.

Over 2000 MWe of additional hydro generating capacity is under construction, but the lead times associated with these schemes (about 10-12 years) are too long to meet an impending capacity shortfall that Hydro-Québec is projecting between 2007 and 2010, 2010 being the year when new hydro, currently under construction, is scheduled to come on line. An attraction of the planned gas-fired combined cycle station is that it can be up and running in three or four years.

Improved energy conservation has been proposed as a way of meeting the shortfall, but Hydro-Québec believes that in this area everything that can be done is being done.

What about simply importing the needed electricity from the USA? Hydro-Québec points out that in environmental terms this is not an ideal option because over half of such electricity would be generated in elderly and relatively inefficient coal plants. It also doesn’t particularly want to be reliant on neighbouring countries for electricity – an argument that has presumably gained some weight since 14 August.

Inevitably, some of the project’s opponents have called for more renewables as an alternative to the gas-fired plant, and indeed Hydro-Québec has launched a tendering process for 1000 MWe of wind. But you’d need around 3000 MWe of wind and a vast area of land to approach the equivalent capacity of an 836 MWe combined cycle plant, and even then it would be intermittent.

And of course wind is not without its own objectors. A recent lawsuit filed against a proposed large wind

farm in Wisconsin is reported as claiming that “the flickering shadows spinning turbine blades would cast

when the sun is low could cause dizziness, headaches and other health effects.” Ridiculous is the word that springs to mind.

Let us hope a more rational approach prevails in Québec and the 7H gets the go ahead.

Return of the GT24/26

After a difficult few years, and some modifications, Alstom’s GT24/26 gas turbine looks like it is beginning to deliver what its original designers intended. A recent significant step in the recovery process was the winning by Alstom of an order for new GT26 gas turbines – something that looked pretty unlikely a short time ago.

As reported in this month’s news it is Gas Natural of Spain, already operating two GT26-based combined cycle plants, that stepped up to the plate and placed an order for three new GT26 gas turbines for its 1200 MWe Cartagena combined cycle power plant. Consisting of three single-shaft power trains, the Cartagena plant is due to start up in 2006.

This is the first such sale since Alstom acquired

the GT24/26 technology when it bought out ABB

from the ABB/Alstom power joint venture in 2000.

The deal left ABB with the asbestos liabilities

associated with CE boilers, while Alstom found

itself with a gas turbine technology that has proved

expensive to get right.

However, as well as the Cartagena sale Alstom is now reporting increasing availability for the GT24/26 fleet.

As the company says, “This all points to a return of the GT24/GT26 gas turbines as a serious competitor in the field of gas turbine technology.” What the company needs now is a return of the market for such machines.