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Roundtable: The Future Of Generation

Fortnightly Magazine - December 2004

The fastest and cheapest way to reduce carbon emissions - and also to lighten the load on the transmission grid - is to improve energy efficiency, with more efficient lighting, motors, air conditioning, and refrigeration.

Young, Exelon: Technology hasn't advanced as fast as it could, partly because we kept energy prices low in this country for a long time. As high as they seem today, they are still a relatively stable part of our economy. That has not encouraged investment in new technologies for conservation or load management.

But with $50-a-barrel oil and high gas prices, we are seeing renewed interest in the demand side of the equation. Someday we'll see the ability to shape loads at the local level such that existing transmission and generation assets can go a lot further than they do today. It will allow distributors to provide lower-cost electricity.

Cartwright, Calpine: We'll see some IGCC [integrated gasification-combined cycle] plants going online in the next five years or so, and if they are successful there will be more.

McKenzie, Southern Co.: Having coal gasification capacity in front of the country's 200,000 MW of combined-cycle capacity would allow the flexibility to switch between coal and gas. That would be a different world than the one we are in today. In 10 years, with LNG infrastructure in place globally, and with commercialized coal gasification capacity in place, we could see gas at $3 [per MMBtu] again.

We are excited about the award we received from the Department of Energy to pursue a coal gasification project in Orlando. It will be a commercial demonstration of our gasification technology. My hope for Southern Company is that by the 2013 to 2015 time frame, we will be putting gasifiers in front of our existing combined-cycle units

Fortnightly: Who will build and own the next generation of power plants? Will progress toward competition continue or stall out? Will a new, more viable merchant power business model emerge?

Cartwright, Calpine: The situation now is very different from what it was a few years ago. I don't think there will be a significant number of new power plants built on speculation as they were several years ago. But we are seeing more load-serving entities issuing RFPs for long-term commitments of power capacity, with an average life of about 7 years. That allows us to project finance.

The bottom line is the contract must be with a creditworthy entity, and the terms must support financing. The banks have been very interested in competing for business when you have a good contract and a good project.

Hunt, Global Energy Advisers: We see continued pressure for direct access. Even with the calamity we had in the California energy crisis, industrial customers are saying they see opportunities for savings and they don't want the door to close.

Buehler, Energy Investors Funds: The free market got stalled because of bad regulation in California, but that was a one-off problem. We will continue to deregulate.

Some people may focus on building regional portfolios of merchant assets or acquiring regional portfolios of distressed