Coal, Nuclear

POWER-GEN International @ 20:A Look Back at Issues and Events from 1988

Issue 11 and Volume 112.

Twenty years ago on page 6 of the January 1988 edition of Power Engineering magazine, a full-page ad introduced “POWER-GEN ’88” to the world. The inaugural event, which grew to become POWER-GEN International, was held at the Orlando Convention Center from December 6-8. The event covered fossil and solid fuel power generation, including coal, oil, natural gas, municipal solid waste and other waste fuels. “Paper abstracts are invited,” the ad read. That opened the floodgates, which, over the next 20 years, would see thousands of papers researched, written and presented at the world’s largest and most prestigious exhibition and conference for the power generation industry.

Power Engineering magazine has been PGI’s flagship media sponsor since the beginning 20 years ago. This year to celebrate PGI’s 20th anniversary we’ll take a look back at some of the issues and events that were making news. A lot of the same issues continue to make news today.

In the November 1988 issue, editor Robert W. Smock wrote a column under the headline “Who will build new power plants?” Here’s what he had to say:

“Scorching heat and half-empty hydro reservoirs this past summer strained utility thermal power plant capacity as peak demand for electricity soared. Some utilities cut voltage to squeeze by. Capacity margins approached zero for some companies.

“The national capacity margin—our ‘cushion’ that ensures we will meet the summer peak—is approaching 20 percent. That cushion reached a high of 30 percent in 1982 and has been dropping ever since at the rate of two or three percentage points a year. A near-empty construction pipeline is adding little new capacity. Within two or three years the national capacity margin will hit 15 percent. That’s as low as it got at the bottom of the last utility cpacity-construction cycle around 1970.

“It’s time to start ordering new bulk power generating capacity. Who is going to build it?

“Many utilities are reluctant. They got burned so badly in nuclear projects they want no part of new construction of any type. The doom and gloom crowd suggests that no one will take the risk of building new power plants and that blackouts are inevitable.

“I don’t agree. Virginia Power recently requested bids from outside sources to build new capacity to meet the needs of its customers through 1994. The utility was looking for 1,750 MW. It got responses for 14,000 MW from a variety of independent power producers and even a few other utilities. New England Electric went outside looking for 200 MW and got bids for 4,729 MW.

“Venture capital is flooding our industry, given half a chance.

“In announcing the Virginia Power dig request, the largest yet by an electric utility, company president Jack Ferguson said the company will meet most of its new capacity needs through ‘purchases in free and fair competitive markets. We will propose to build capacity when we’re able to demonstrate to the commission that we can beat the market price.’

“Who can blame a utility shackled by regulations at the state and federal level for bypassing its problems and turning to independent power?

“If electric utilities cannot build needed capacity, then others will. So be it.”

The November 1988 issue also included a preview to the first-ever POWER-GEN International. In the preview was a list of exhibitors, which totaled 110. This year—on the 20th anniversary of that first conference and exhibition—more than 10 times that number will be in attendance. We welcome them all, along with the thousands of delegates from dozens of countries around the world. Welcome to POWER-GEN International 2008!