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Exclusive: GE urges to fix the power turbine issue, becoming global

NEW YORK (Reuters) – Utilities close at least 18 of the latest gas turbines from General Electric Co ( GE.N ) for the repair of Taiwan-to-France power plants, over a dozen interviews with plant operators and industry experts.

A worker walks past a gas turbine under construction in the gas turbine production plant at General Electric's plant in Belfort, June 24, 201

4. REUTERS / Vincent Kessler / File Photo

The decommissioning of a recent GE-operated turbine follows a blade failure in Texas as GE faces financial losses and lower orders for the giant generators that can power hundreds of thousands of homes.

GE is providing $ 480 million to repair its 9HA, 7HA and 9FB turbines as it restructures its electricity business. The 126-year-old conglomerate has declined to indicate how many of them were closed or when parts should be replaced, if necessary, in up to 130 such turbines.

Power plant operators in Japan, Taiwan, France and several US sites have shut down – or intend to close – French supply data and, at least, 18 of the 55 HA-supplied 55 new HA-type turbines previously delivered by GE Interviews with more than 20 industry experts, including executives, plant operators, insurance specialists, engineers and consultants with direct knowledge of GE turbines.

In an interview, the CEO of GE Gas Power Systems downgraded the importance of turbine downtime and the French data, saying that GE turbines behave "extremely well" despite the need for "early maintenance" to attach the blades.

Considering all turbines used, GE has the "most reliable fleet in the world – 99 percent give or take reliability," he added. GE has previously announced that its equipment, which requires blade repair, includes four Texas 7HA turbines that closed after oxidation and that a blade failed one of them in September. These turbines are included in the 18 shut down.

Photos of the damaged turbine reviewed by Reuters show dozens of jagged and broken blades in the massive machine owned by Exelon Corp ( EXC.N ). The turbines are now running after two months of repairs, Exelon said.

GE told Reuters that it had identified the problem of oxidation in 2015 and developed a solution to the failure in Texas. The update uses a previous casting method that was used on other turbine models.

Three plant operators using GE blade repair equipment, Invenergy, Exelon and Tennessee Valley Authority, told Reuters that GE had been transparent about installing new blades.

"Overall, we were very pleased with GE's HA technology and its capabilities," said Beth Conley, a spokeswoman for Invenergy, which is replacing spare blades for three new HA turbines at a facility in Pennsylvania that has not yet opened.

After the problems in Texas, the electricity provider Electricite de France ( EDF.PA ) closed its plant in Bouchain in northern France for a month from the end of September to replace the blades. Bouchain was the world's first to install GE's 9HA turbine.

From January 2017 to October 2018, Bouchain has registered 86 outages due to equipment failure, testing or other reasons. This is five times the average of non-GE assets, according to French operator RTE, analyzed by Reuters. Reuters excluded failures for scheduled maintenance.

The French data also shows that installations with GE turbines for repairs or tests on average closed more than twice as often as non-natural gas installations in France with turbines from Alstom, Siemens AG ( SIEGn.DE ) and Ansaldo Energia SpA. GE acquired Alstom's electricity business in 2015.

Click on tmsnrt.rs/2Rs5mU3

for a graphic. Representatives from GE and EDF told Reuters that the data from network operator RTE, an independent subsidiary of EDF, was "not wrong." should not, however, be used to assess turbine performance, as some failures could be due to other plants in the plants.

FILE PHOTO – A worker telephones at the site of the new global headquarters of the General Electric Company (GE) on June 27, 2018 in Boston, Massachusetts (USA). REUTERS / Brian Snyder

EDF said Bei Bouchain, which opened in 2016, has no problems and frequent downtime is not uncommon for new start-up installations. According to EDF, Bouchain's power will be shifted up and down to meet peak demand rather than running constantly. The other RTE-tracked gas-fired plants can also be used for peaking and have been in operation for many years.

RTE, Siemens AG ( SIEGn.DE ), Ansaldo Energia SpA and Mitsubishi Hitachi Power Systems ( 7011.T ) declined to comment.

Reuters was unable to obtain comparable data on how often GE turbines were shut down for repair by utility companies around the world. Shutdown is triggered when utilities discover that an asset must be serviced or tested, or when equipment failure or other issues cause the asset to shut down unexpectedly. While GE assets continue to produce one-third of global electricity, GE's turbocharging orders fell from first to third place, behind Mitsubishi and Siemens, as McCoy Power Reports, a highly acclaimed industry, posted in the first half Data Source.

GE said it had booked seven orders for HA turbines in the first nine months of this year, half as many as in the same period last year.

GE's HA turbines have come under particular pressure and the equipment repair business is facing increasing competition. The success of GE's new turbines is becoming increasingly important as it has to focus on power plants, jet engines and wind turbines in its restructuring. GE spent more than two decades developing the 400-ton machines, but put them on the market after rivals Siemens and Mitsubishi gained market share, making GE catch up.

GE undercut its competitors' prices by around 20 percent, "by 2016, accounting for 0 percent to around 45 percent of this turbine class," analysts at Morgan Stanley reported in a report this year.

Now Chief Executive Officer Larry Culp is struggling to recover GE's debt and reduce debt after the company lost $ 22.8 billion in the last quarter, mainly through the drive, and its credit fell to three Stages over junk. Culp divides the power department, consolidates the powerhouse to cut costs, and appoints new leaders.

The demand for large gas turbines is at a 23-year low. This forces GE and its rivals to fight hard for fewer deals as utilities buy more wind and solar systems that have become competitive.

GE Gas Power's New Chief Executive Officer Scott Strazik said in an interview that customers are satisfied with GE's response to the blade issue, and that GE does not intend to change customer handling or turbine testing GE's test facility is the largest and most comprehensive in the world.

"HA is the fastest-selling gas turbine we have and customers still have a strong appetite for HA," Strazik said.

Additional coverage by Henning Gloystein in Singapore, Yuka Obayashi in Tokyo, Liz Hampton in Houston, Jessica Macy Yu in Taipei, Kate Duguid in New York, Geert De Clercq in Paris, Anastasia Lyrchikova in Moscow, Jane Chung in Seoul and Drazen Jorgic in Islamabad; Editing by Joe White and Edward Tobin

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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