Alstom will produce a new natural gas turbine at its Chattanooga factory, bolstering jobs at the plant and positioning it for changes in the energy marketplace, officials said Thursday.
"When we sized this facility, we sized it to generate a lot of gas turbine products out the door," said Lawrence Quinn, who heads the company's thermal manufacturing and nuclear business in the city.
Making Alstom's upgraded GT24 gas turbines in the United States for the first time helps the company tap into a move by energy companies to produce more electricity using natural gas, officials said.
Quinn said the philosophy of Alstom is flexibility.
"We always knew gas would have a rebound based on the pricing and the need and actual economic conditions," he said.
Quinn expected that more than $2 million will be spent on training related to the new production at the $300 million plant that was opened last year on Riverfront Parkway by Paris-based Alstom.
Patrick Fetzer, head of Alstom's gas business in North America, said the new product will be engineered in Switzerland and built in Chattanooga. Previously, the company had built the old equipment outside the U.S. and assembled it in Alstom's Richmond, Va., facility, he said.
The GT24 is at the heart of Alstom's KA24 combined cycle power plant, officials said. Alstom officials believe natural gas will play an important role in the power generation mix in the U.S. both as a primary fuel and as back-up generation for renewables.
Fetzer said plans are to ship its first turbine from Chattanooga to Mexico in March. Turbine packages can cost upwards of $200 million each, he said.
In addition to North America, the units are expected to ship to other countries such as Brazil, Japan, Taiwan and Saudi Arabia, Fetzer said.
Quinn said the Alstom factory now has more than 200 workers. The gas turbine production will help the plant reach its goal of hiring about 350 workers, he said.
On Wednesday, Quinn said, about 160 representatives of large customers visited. Quinn said he hopes for "a large influx" of business.
Last month, Alstom's plant shipped its first nuclear components by river to Illinois.
Quinn said the so-called nuclear renaissance in America will continue. Production of nuclear plants isn't moving ahead as fast as previously thought and the Japanese earthquake and tsunami accidents in March have created caution in the industry.
But Quinn said the Alstom plant has the people, machinery and facilities for the nuclear market. "It's absolutely happening," he said.