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Merrill Jones is a 40-year veteran of the fossil power generation industry. His long-time and hard-earned expertise makes him the perfect conference chair for POWER-GEN International’s Optimizing Plant Performance track.

Jones, who in his day job is senior director of business development and overs the southwestern U.S. for Day & Zimmermann, has worked for several companies specializing in maintenance services, combustion equipment, combined-cycle power plants and boiler start-up and commissioning, among many career achievements.

He talked with POWER-GEN about his career, his hobbies and, last but not least, what the Optimizing Plant Performance track offers uniquely this year at POWER-GEN International. The conference celebrates its 30th birthday December 4-6 in Orlando, Florida.

How did you get started in your current career?

“I entered the power generation industry directly out of college in the early 1970s while there was a major growth in the number of power plants being built in the USA. At the time I was working for a major boiler OEM (original equipment manufacturer) which offered international opportunities which allowed me to work in the middle east, India and the pacific islands.”

What does Day & Zimmerman do with respect to the electric power industry?

“Day & Zimmermann is a major provider of long-term maintenance services for both the fossil and nuclear power generation industry.”

How long have you been involved with the POWER-GEN committee and what do you look for in selecting sessions for it?

“I have been a member of the POWER-GEN committee and before that the Coal Gen Committee for approximately 20 years. The main criteria for selecting sessions and supporting papers is relevance to current issues and technical quality.”

What’s key about optimizing plant performance that, say, wasn’t as much of an issue a decade or so ago?

“Optimizing plant performance has always been a topic of interest to the industry for many years but the outside factors have changed considerably in the past 10 years—making plant optimization more important than ever. For fossil generation the competition from renewable generation was nonexistent 10 years ago. Additionally the introduction of lower priced natural gas from hydraulic fracturing has changed the technology mix from coal-fired stationary plants to natural gas-fired combined-cycle plants. Today fossil generating plants have to manage with fewer people and smaller budgets yet are required to provide the same reliability.”

Give us a quick sampler of what the Optimizing Plant Performance track will offer attendees this year?

“We have an entire session on modernizing steam turbines for efficiency and life extension that includes several presentations from large generating companies. We also have a session dedicated to a full review of existing coal-fired generating risk assessments relative to future viability in today’s competitive environment. The session will also review a number of boiler-related improvements for increased competitiveness.”

What is a favorite hobby you try to do in your free time?

“When not working I like to stay active playing tennis as well as going on off road excursions in my customized jeeps.”