… important questions, he says. “First, where is the economy heading and how quickly will demand for electricity be growing?” Merrifield asks. “And second, where will Congress and the president end up on carbon legislation?”

Nuclear Inches Ahead

Merrifield, a member of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission from 1998 to 2007, says he is confident the three projects will advance to construction and commercial operation, despite concerns some nuclear critics have expressed about likely cost overruns and construction delays at nuclear projects in general. “You don’t sign an EPC contract if you aren’t serious,” the Shaw executive says about what he views as the clear intent of Southern, SCE&G, Santee Cooper and Progress to see their projects through to completion.

Still, he acknowledges some roadblocks. Progress in May announced its timetable for finishing the two Levy units has been delayed by at least 20 months. Industry officials also point to more than two dozen nuclear units currently being planned across the U.S. that will likely be developed over a longer period of time than originally thought.

Merrifield emphasizes the Progress delay was not the result of any second thoughts of company officials. Instead, Progress was responding to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s indication that the utility will not be permitted to start excavation and foundation preparation work until it has receive a combined construction and operating license, he says.

While the market for coal-fired and nuclear plants has stalled, the Obama administration’s policies are very supportive of renewable energy and transmission improvements. More than 8,500 MW of new wind capacity was added in 2008, and the American Wind Energy Association expects another 5,000 MW will be added this year, pushing the nation’s total wind capacity past 30,000 MW.

“Our business in renewables has jumped substantially,” says Lyle White, senior vice president and director of power for the U.S. and Latin America at Houston-based Worley Parsons. He adds that an increasing number of biomass-fired projects and utility-scale solar projects are being planned, more and more of them by utilities with the financial strength that credit-strapped independent power companies lack.

FirstEnergy, the Akron, Ohio-based utility, announced in April it plans to retrofit two older coal-fired units at its Burger station in Shadyside to burn biomass—or, more specifically, an “energy crop”—grown to serve the project’s fuel needs. The project is expected to cost $200 million. Taken together, the two converted units will generate 312 MW. Similarly, Georgia Power in March secured state regulatory approval to convert its 155-MW Plant Mitchell coal unit into a 96-MW biomass plant by June 2012 for just over $100 million.

1 The Shaw Group Inc.
2 URS Corp.
3 Black & Veatch
4 Sargent & Lundy LLC
5 Bechtel
6 AECOM Technology Corp.
7 Zachry Group
9 Burns & McDonnell
11 Parsons Brinckerhoff Inc.
12 Tetra Tech Inc.
13 Burns and Roe Group Inc.
14 Fluor Corp.
15 WorleyParsons Corp.
16 McDermott International Inc.
17 POWER Engineers Inc.
18 TRC Cos. Inc.
19 Foster Wheeler AG
20 Kiewit Corp.
21 Enercon Services Inc.
22 CDI Engineering Solutions
23 EMJ Corp.
24 Stanley Consultants Inc.
25 HDR

On the solar front, Florida Power & Light is building three solar projects totaling 110 MW and more than $600 million. Austin Energy, the municipal utility in Texas’ state capital, recently entered into a 25-year, $250-million power-purchase agreement for the output of a 30-MW solar facility that Gemini Power Development—a joint venture of developer MMA Renewable Ventures and solar manufacturer Suntech Power Holdings—will build in nearby Weberville.

Electric utilities, both municipal and invester-owned, traditionally have been conservative entities, and “getting them to change is like turning the Queen Mary,” says Darcy Immerman, vice president of strategic development at AECOM”s energy group. “But change is coming, so it’s really a question of ‘How ready will you be for the change?’ ” Utilities that open themselves to the possibilities of the new era are “better positioned for this new wave,” Immerman says.

Smart Grid Becomes a Reality

Shaw’s primary focus for now is on nuclear projects. The company is in the enviable, and somewhat daunting, position of holding the first three EPC contracts awarded for new nuclear facilities in the U.S. Shaw and Westinghouse are under contract to build two Westinghouse AP1000 units for Southern Nuclear and its partners at the Vogtle nuclear station near Waynesboro, Ga.; one unit for South Carolina Electric & Gas and Santee Cooper at their V.C. Summer station near Jenkinsville, S.C.; and two units for Progress Energy Florida at a greenfield site in Levy County, Fla. Perhaps the strongest element of the power market in the next few years will be transmission, distribution and “smart grid” projects. Power pools, utilities and independent transmission companies throughout the US are planning power-delivery projects unprecedented in size and scope. For example, in April, the Southwest Power Pool (SPP), which oversees the high-voltage grid in parts of six states in the Great Plains region, approved five transmission lines totaling nearly $700 million. In Texas, the Public Utility Commission by year’s end expects to approve specific plans for more than 2,300 miles in new 345-kV lines that, like the SPP projects, will help deliver thousands of megawatts of wind power from remote areas to population centers. The projects, expected to be completed by the end of 2013, are valued at nearly $5 billion.