Utilities are shutting down at least 18 of General Electric Co’s newest gas turbines for repairs at power plants from Taiwan to France, according to interviews with plant operators and industry experts.
The shutdowns, which follow a recent GE turbine blade failure in Texas, come as GE grapples with financial losses and a drop in orders for the massive generators that can supply electricity to hundreds of thousands of homes.
GE is setting aside $480 million to repair its 9HA, 7HA and 9FB model turbines as it restructures its power business. The 126-year-old conglomerate has declined to say how many have been shut down, or when it would replace parts — if needed — in as many as 130 such turbines it has produced.
Power plant operators in Japan, Taiwan, France and at multiple US sites have shut down — or plan to shut down — at least 18 of the 55 new HA-model turbines that GE has shipped so far, French utility data and interviews with more than 20 industry experts.
In an interview, GE gas power systems CEO Chuck Nugent played down the significance of turbine shutdowns and the French data, saying that GE turbines are performing “extremely well,” despite the need for “early maintenance” to fix the blades.
Considering all of the power turbines it has in use, GE has “the most reliable fleet in the world — 99 per cent, give or take, reliability,” he added.
GE previously disclosed that its equipment needing blade repairs includes four 7HA turbines in Texas that were shut after oxidation caused a blade to fail in one of them in September. Those turbines are included in the 18 being shut down.
Photographs of the damaged turbine show dozens of jagged and broken blades inside the massive machine, owned by Exelon Corp. The turbines are now running after two months of repairs, Exelon said.
GE said it identified the oxidation problem in 2015, and developed a fix before the failure in Texas. The fix uses an earlier casting method that was employed on other turbine models.
Three plant operators using GE equipment that are shutting for blade repairs, Invenergy, Exelon and Tennessee Valley Authority, said GE has been transparent and responsive in installing new blades for free under warranty.
“Overall, we’ve been very pleased with GE’s HA technology and its performance capabilities,” said Beth Conley, a spokeswoman at Invenergy, which is receiving replacement blades for three new HA turbines at a Pennsylvania plant that has not yet opened.
Following the problems in Texas, state-owned utility Electricite de France closed its plant in the northern French town of Bouchain for a month starting in late September for blade replacements. Bouchain was the first plant worldwide to install GE’s 9HA turbine.
Bouchain has logged 86 outages for equipment failure, testing or other reasons from January 2017 to October 2018, five times the average for non-GE plants, according to data from French grid operator RTE.
The French data also show that plants with GE turbines have closed for repairs or testing, on average, more than twice as often as non-GE gas-fuelled plants in France with turbines made by Alstom, Siemens AG and Ansaldo Energia SpA. GE acquired Alstom’s power business in 2015.
GE and EDF officials said that the data from grid operator RTE, an independent subsidiary of EDF, are “not wrong,” but should not be used to assess turbine performance because some outages might be due to other equipment at the plants.
EDF said there are no problems at Bouchain and that frequent shutdowns are not unusual for new plants during their break-in period. EDF said Bouchain’s output is cycled up and down to meet peaks in electricity demand rather than running constantly. — Reuters