By DON SHILLING
VINDICATOR BUSINESS EDITOR
YOUNGSTOWN -- Technology that President Bush will promote Thursday already exists in Youngstown, where a local company is producing both electricity and steam for heating and cooling at the same plant.
Youngstown Thermal added an electricity generator to its steam-producing plant this year, said Carl Avers, chairman of its parent company, Thermal Ventures.
A related company, Akron Thermal, has been producing both for about 15 years, although Thermal Ventures has owned it since 1995.
Bush will unveil his energy plan Thursday in St. Paul, Minn., at the city's downtown heating-and-cooling plant, which also produces electricity. Bush is promoting greater use of combining power generation with heating and cooling, which is called co-generation.
Advantages: Avers said power can be produced at steam plants at 80-percent efficiency, compared with 33 percent fuel efficiency at coal-fired plants. Co-generation also reduces carbon dioxide emissions.
"We can produce a lot more electricity with a lot less fuel, and that's kinder to the environment," Avers said.
Co-generation plants take high-pressure steam produced from burning coal or wood and run it through turbines to produce electricity. The low-pressure steam that results from that process is then used to run heating and cooling systems.
Youngstown Thermal provides heating and cooling to about 50 downtown buildings.
It has been using the electricity for its own purposes. It can produce electricity for about one-sixteenth the cost of buying it, Avers said.
Thermal Ventures has retail electricity customers through a partnership with AES New Energy, but it has been buying power and reselling it, Avers said. Eventually, it will sell power that it has generated to retail customers, he said.
Slow to catch on: Avers said European companies have been using co-generation for decades, but it has been resisted in this country. He said he would have preferred government officials here to mandate the use of more efficient technology, but they instead are using electricity deregulation to allow the market to create more efficiencies.
Avers said not all of the country's power needs can be supplied by co-generation, but Bush is pushing for more co-generation, specifically at industries and colleges. Many colleges have steam systems, and Avers predicted that within 10 years they will also have co-generation operations.
Youngstown-based Thermal Ventures also operates systems in Richmond, Va., and Garden Grove, Calif. Avers said the company is working on deals to operate 20 more systems in California and building natural gas-fueled power plants in California.