Why it happened? Who lost in the bust? Who will survive to build another turbine?
Robert L. Sansom is president of Arlington, Va.-based Energy Ventures Analysis, Inc. Dr. Sansom is an expert on energy, economics and environmental issues with 25 years experience. He has testified in international and U.S. arbitrations, before Congress, in many federal and state proceedings and before state public utility commissions, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, and the Surface Transportation Board. Sansom analyzes antitrust issues, mergers, contracts, power, energy markets and projects, and transportation. His expertise covers electricity, coal, oil and natural gas, environmental issues, project feasibility, and finance. Dr. Sansom has a Ph.D. from Oxford University, work experience on the National Security Council staff and at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
Michael Schaal is senior analyst at Energy Ventures Analysis, Inc. Mr. Schaal provides analytic insight in the areas of electric industry, gas, nuclear, coal, and oil fuels for EVA and its clients. His primary focus is on the rapidly changing electric industry. Mr. Schaal joined EVA in 1995. Prior to joining EVA, Mr. Schaal had nine years experience in economic analysis, engineering, construction, operations, and project management as a professional engineer with Bechtel Group, Inc. in San Francisco. Mr. Schaal received a B.S. in electrical engineering from the California State University in 1986 and an M.S. in Economics from the Pennsylvania State University in 1995 and is a Professional Electrical Engineer (California).
The period from late 2001 to April 2002 witnessed a classic industry shakeout as a result of a merchant power development sector that became too ambitious in its power plant development plans.
A year ago, the merchant sector was moving full steam ahead on a timeline that would have added a whopping 380,000 MW of electric generating capacity to a 750,000 MW base.1
Certainly, these plans could only be deemed optimistic in an industry that has exhibited growth rates in the 2 to 3 percent range.
In fact, the 2000-2001 California energy crisis artificially extended the turbine boom because the state for almost a decade had discouraged new plant development.
But within a period of six months, starting with the Securities and Exchange Commission's (SEC's) Oct. 29, 2001 announcement that it was investigating Enron, plans for almost one-quarter of this planned new turbine capacity had been aborted, and the shakeout continues.
Many have tried to pinpoint the source of turbinemania that seemed to hit almost every energy company throughout the nation.
Spread of new gas turbine development could in retrospect be compared to the spread of tulip bulbs in Europe during the Tulipmania of the early 17th century. In the context of the merchant industry, however, GE was Holland, and we all expected a turbine in our neighborhood.
To those who aren't familiar with one of history's greatest speculative bubbles, during the seventeenth century the Dutch economy was severely disrupted by speculation in tulip bulbs. At its height, single bulbs of rare varieties were sold for as much as $25,000 in today's money. Then, in 1637, speculators took their profits and sold out, which made others nervous, so they sold too, triggering a panic and prices plummeted.