Pity poor General Electric. Once the dominant global leader in turbines for making electricity from coal or natural gas, its business has hit the skids in recent years as demand for its products has collapsed. We can thank the steep decline in the price of renewable energy for that.
Now GE has notified the California Energy Commission it is shuttering a natural gas generating facility it owns and operates in Riverside, California, according to Reuters. The Inland Empire plant was only commissioned in 2009. Such generating facilities normally have a 30-year useful life, so GE is losing two-thirds of its roughly $1 billion investment in the plant.
The problem is two-fold. One, the Inland Empire Power Plant is fitted with GE H series turbines, which have proved troublesome in service. The only other facility in the world that used the H series turbines is located in Wales. Two, those turbines are not easy to start and stop quickly. As renewables have become more common in California, the Inland Empire plant is ill-suited to ramping up when the supply of renewable energy dwindles due to a lack of sunshine or wind.
“We have made the decision to shut down operation of the Inland Empire Power Plant which has been operating below capacity for several years effective at the end of 2019,” GE told Reuters. The plant “is powered by a legacy gas turbine technology … and is uneconomical to support further.” It said in its filing with the California Energy Commission that the plant is “not designed for the needs of the evolving California market, which requires fast-start capabilities to satisfy peak demand periods.”
The Inland Empire facility has two H series turbines but one of them was shut down permanently in 2017 as changes in the California energy market made it uneconomical to keep in operation. GE now offers customers its new HA series turbines that react more quickly to changes in energy demand and eliminate the maintenance problems associated with the H Series turbines.
Reuters says the closure highlights the stiff competition in California’s deregulated energy market as cheap wind and solar supply more electricity, squeezing out fossil fuels. Some utilities say they have no plans to build more fossil plants, which is great news for the environment.
There’s a kicker to this story that CleanTechnica readers will appreciate. After the Inland Empire plant is dismantled, GE will sell the site to a company that makes battery storage units for the renewable energy market. Is that poetic justice or what?
GE Will Shutter California Natural Gas Plant 20 Years Early, by Steve Hanley, Clean Technica, June 21, 2019.