By Raphael John-Lall
Business Guardian – March 09, 2017

The installation of two new engines at the Penal Power Station will help alleviate the country’s gas shortage as less gas will be needed in power generation, says Surindranath Ramsingh, general manager at the Power Generation Company of T&T (PowerGen).

Ramsingh was speaking about the upgraded gas turbine generating plant at the Penal Power Station. “There has been the curtailment of natural gas for the needs of the petrochemical industry in T&T. These power generators in Penal are users of natural gas for electricity generation, so wherever there is opportunity for improving efficiency and reducing the consumption of natural gas, it is a welcomed opportunity,” he told the Business Guardian on Monday.

T&T’s petrochemical industry has been hard hit over the last five years because of problems with the supply of natural gas.

The government hopes to ease the curtailments by purchasing gas from Venezuela’s offshore Dragon field, and has a tentative agreement with Venezuela’s government to establish a commercial venture to exploit gas deposits that straddle the maritime border between the two countries.

“With the new engines, less gas is needed for the same or less output in generation. This will allow the gas to be used in more value-added processes in the petrochemical industry,” said Ramsingh.

When PowerGen worked out the equivalent natural gas savings from the new engines; it resulted in 1.2 billion standard cubic feet per year.

“This will now be able to be transferred to the petrochemical or other industries. It is around an eight per cent reduction in the usage of gas. So if every user reduces consumption by eight or ten per cent this would be a significant reduction.”

Ramsingh spoke to the Business Guardian at PowerGen’s Victoria Avenue Office, Port-of-Spain.

According to a media release from PowerGen, the upgrade of this station’s two gas turbines, which form an integral part of the combined cycle power generation system, plays an important role in the company’s efficiency drive.

The event marks the culmination of several years of planning followed by approximately 300,000 manhours of work in 2016 to execute this signal event in the industry.

This is the first flange-to-flange upgrade of this type in the region, the first project of this type executed primarily by PowerGen’s staff and it is being viewed as a demonstration of the company’s commitment to the continuing optimisation of the nation’s natural gas resources.

PowerGen’s shareholders are state-owned Electricity Commission (T&TEC) with 51 per cent, the Marubeni Corporation of Japan (with 39 per cent) and publicly listed National Enterprises Ltd (NEL) with 10 per cent. PowerGen owns two working power stations in Trinidad: Point Lisas and in Penal, with a third on Wrightson Road in Port-of-Spain having been decommissioned in January 2016.

Other independent power producers (IPP) in the country are Trinity Power Ltd based in Point Lisas and Trinidad Generation Unlimited (TGU).

“When the combined cycle plant at Penal was commissioned in 1984, the two GE Frame 7E gas turbines and one steam turbine working together produced a combined cycle output of 196 MW in its ‘new and clean’ condition.  “Over the past 32 years, with the three machines aging, the plant’s output had degraded to 177 MW. The two new GE Frame 7EA gas turbines, which were used to replace the two old Frame 7Es, now produce 75 MW each in combined cycle mode, giving a combined cycle total of 213 MW,” Ramsingh said.

GE was the company from the US that supplied the two engines in January 2016. There were two contracts; one for the purchase and installation and another contract for the maintenance of the engines for two years.  By November 2016, the engines were completely installed and commissioned.

The total cost of the project to purchase and install the engines was US$25 million. If they had gone the route of rebuilding the entire plant instead of just buying new engines, it would have cost PowerGen US$200 million. The new engines will add another 40 years of life to the Penal power plant.

Local content

Ramsingh said 98 per cent of the project was based on local content. “Engineers, craftsmen, support staff were local. The other two per cent provided by GE was the supervision for warranty issues. All the physical skills were done by locals.” He added that all this is part of PowerGen’s local content policy. “All our maintenance activities are done in-house. This is exceptional for power generation. Usually, a lot of the IPPs use contract services for their maintenance needs. So while they operate the plant, they would outsource a lot. “PowerGen, on the other hand, has in-house maintenance staff and that has been so for the last 50 years.” He said the skill levels in the power generation industry are very high with experienced personnel. “This makes us more marketable, not only in T&T, but internationally.”

Point Lisas plant

Ramsingh said the upgrade at the Penal Power Station is a blueprint for PowerGen to upgrade the units at the Point Lisas Power Station. “The units at Point Lisas are even older than those that at Penal, about 40 years old units to newer ones which are about 20 years old. The 40 year old engines are the ones we will be targeting. Those are the next projects that we will be looking at. There will be a similar arrangement where will be looking at upgrading the engines and using the existing infrastructure,” he said.

Ramsingh said the cost for the new engines and installation at the Point Lisas power plant could be around US$80 million. He said the timeline for this project to begin would be within the next year or two. He added that PowerGen—as an IPP—has had many years of experience and the company is one of the best performers in the region in power generation.

“We were the first IPP that came into existence in the region. We were divested from T&TEC in 1994 and, therefore, we have a lot of the experience in power generation. And we have built upon it. We have become more efficient with every project.”