In the midyear update to the 2011 McGraw-Hill Construction Outlook, one of the few sectors holding onto any gain is the electric utility market, and two power producers who spoke in Atlanta last week reinforced that forecast in a discussion of major works under way.


Speaking at the ENR-CURT Construction Business Forum on June 14, Robert Murray, chief economist for MHC, said there is a “huge amount of electric powerplant construction taking place,” supporting his continued forecast for overall growth of 3% in the electric utility market this year. But for all markets, Murray is revising his forecast to no growth or “down 1% or 2%,” he said.

W. Paul Bowers, president and CEO of Georgia Power, a Southern Co. subsidiary and member of the Construction Users Roundtable, said $16 billion in capital investment is now in progress, including a coal-plant conversion, 2,500 MW of new gas generation and a new, 2,200-MW nuclear power station. He said the utility plans “$13 billion in energy development in the next three years, including coal conversions and environmental upgrades.” He added that Southern Co. broke ground in Mississippi that very day on a $2.5-billion coal-fired plant that is set to capture 65% of CO2 emissions.

William R. McCollum Jr., COO of the Tennessee Valley Authority, told the group that TVA has changed its strategy for nuclear power construction. In the 1970s, it fast-tracked multiple projects. “It wasn't that successful,” he acknowledged. Now it plans to have no more than one plant in each phase—project development, engineering and construction—“so we don't get ahead of our headlights.”

TVA now is building a second unit at the Watts Bar site in Rhea County, Tenn., to produce 1,180 MW in 2013. “We have some challenges there brought on by the events in Japan and lessons learned that we are incorporating into construction and the licensing effort,” McCollum said.

Next, he said, TVA plans to resume engineering the mothballed 1,260-MW Bellefonte Unit 1 in Hollywood, Ala., “picking up where [the engineers] left off” and conducting analyses to see what still can be used in an updated design.

In development, McCollum said TVA is studying a new generation of small, modular nuclear plants of 125 MW to 150 MW, with a target date to have them operationalafter 2020.

TVA also has two large construction programs related to accidents: the 2008 Kingston, Tenn., coal-ash impoundment failure, where remediation is well under way, and the unprecedented waves of tornadoes that tore through Mississippi and northern Alabama in April. “We suffered the worst transmission system hardware damage in our history,” McCollum said. The utility lost 353 transmission towers, and 108 line sections went down.

McCollum said 128 delivery points to major customers, including the city of Huntsville, Ala., were taken out, and 847,000 customers lost power. Several TVA plants had to shut down because they lost connection to the transmission system. “There was no place for their electricity to go,” he said.

As crews restored the lines, engineers on laptops in Chattanooga reprogrammed relays for the new lines about to be put in service to protect new grid configurations from being constructed on the fly. Within seven days, TVA restored nearly all customer service. “We didn't have all the lines and structures back in, but our folks were able to creatively get enough lines in service to restore power to customers,” McCollum said.

TVA’s Rapid Restoration

• After tornadoes in April, TVA mobilized 4,000 workers, including

construction crews, and worked 24/7 to restore service.

• One week after the storms, 122 of 128 major connections were back in service.

• As of June 14, service grid is stable and secure.

• Full restoration of final 500-kV system likely by mid-July.