... Energy Florida, St. Petersburg, for example, has signed deals involving one 130-MW plant and two 75-MW plants, while Atlanta-based Georgia Power recently agreed to buy the entire output from a planned 50-MW plant and 50 MW from a planned 110-MW plant.

Just as hybrid autos and trucks are catching on with consumers, utilities are examining how they can make the most of mixed renewable technologies. For example, San Francisco-based Pacific Gas & Electric in June hired San Joaquin Solar, a subsidiary of San Francisco-based Martifer Renewables Electricity to build a 107-MW, “solar thermal-biofuel hybrid” plant near Coalinga, Calif. The project will mix solar-parabolic-trough and biomass-fired technologies.

Until this round of large-scale solar and biomass projects was announced, most solar and biomass projects were of such small size and cost that they typically were built by smaller contractors. That may be changing. The Shaw Group, best-known for its work on coal plants, natural gas-fired plants and nuclear units, is actively pursuing work on biomass and geothermal projects, says spokesman Sean Clancy. Contracts to build big, traditional powerplants may continue to provide the vast majority of Shaw’s energy-related work, but the company also is aware that the role of renewables is growing and company officials want to be a part of it.

Coal and Natural Gas Still Dominate

The market for traditional generation facilities continues to be very strong, particularly for gas plants and, in the longer term, nuclear plants. Several coal-fired projects are under construction, but prospects for future ones remain clouded by concern about climate change, federal carbon-tax legislation, and cost escalation.

Utilities and energy companies increasingly are investing in solar projects.
FPL Energy
Utilities and energy companies increasingly are investing in solar projects.

Raymond Milchovich, chairman and CEO of Clinton, N.J.-based Foster Wheeler, told investors this summer that client delays in securing regulatory approval for circulating-fluidized-bed and other solid-fuel power projects in the first half of 2008 has had an impact on the company’s workload. But he added that clients experiencing delays expect their projects to eventually move forward. “This becomes a timing issue, not a market-demand issue,” he said. In the meantime, Foster Wheeler has been seeking to fill the gap by securing power-related work overseas, he noted.

Natural-gas-fired projects continue to advance to fill the near-term need for incremental generating capacity. For example, Burns & McDonnell was recently selected by South Texas Electric Cooperative to provide engineering, permitting and construction management for a $200-million-plus project to install 202 MW of gas-fired capacity at the Pearsall power station southwest of San Antonio. Construction is expected to begin by early 2009, with completion scheduled for mid-2010.

Martin Koffell, chairman, president and CEO of San Francisco-based URS Corp., told investors in August that URS won a contract in the second quarter of 2008 to provide project management in engineering and construction services for replacement of two steam generators and a reactor vessel head at a nuclear powerplant in the southern U.S. URS also continues to benefit from the development of new fossil-fuel generation facilities, particularly combined-cycle power plants. “These plants are filling the need for new energy production until the next generation of nuclear facilities can be built,” Koffel said.

URS also is providing a full range of EPC services for a series of new combined-cycle natural-gas plants for the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA), and has already begun work on the first project, a $180-million combustion turbine plant. TVA has plans for up to six additional units.

Thomas Zarges, president of URS’ Washington division, says URS also has “three or four other strong prospects [for gas-fired projects] that we’re in final negotiations for that we can certainly see by the end of the year.”

Finally, Shaw Group is ready to start work on the next generation of nuclear plants. The nuclear division of Shaw’s power group and Westinghouse have signed EPC contracts for four 1,117-MW nuclear units, two for Georgia Power’s Vogtle nuclear station near Augusta, Ga., and two for South Carolina Electric & Gas and Santee Cooper’s jointly owned V.C. Summer nuclear station near Jenkinsville, S.C. Both need federal and state approval before construction can begin.