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Innovative project management helps deliver electric transmission project on time and under budget

From May 2011 to July 2013, Bechtel provided project and construction management services to ATCO Electric, a Canadian electric transmission and distribution utility, for its Hanna Region Transmission Development (HRTD) project in Alberta, Canada. The project, which was needed to reinforce and upgrade the electrical transmission system and infrastructure in the region, included constructing 219 miles (352 kilometers) of 240 kilovolt (kV) and 144 kV transmission lines consisting of more than 1,200 transmission structures, as well as building six new substations and upgrading 12 existing substations.

Experienced project management mitigates cost overruns and schedule delays

The complexity of managing and building electric transmission projects goes far beyond the structures and power lines themselves. Environmental sensitivities and regulatory and permitting challenges can affect deadlines, while a distributed work site adds complications in terms of communication and supply chain management. 

Project management, such as the kind provided by Bechtel for the HRTD project, provides the mechanisms and controls needed to keep such multi-faceted projects on schedule and within budget.
“Our scope was to provide overall baseline management—including costing, scoping, and scheduling—for ATCO Electric,” explains Will Fleming, program manager for HRTD. “We collaborated closely with ATCO Electric on overall supply chain management and ensured that contractors were receiving the right materials at the right time and the right location.”
Bechtel provided for the administration and expediting of the major line components, including tower steel, conductor, cabling, and insulators, and provided overall material coordination through its automated Bechtel Procurement System (BPS). BPS is the primary management tool for executing all procurement work processes throughout the life of a project for both office and site procurement of engineered equipment and construction materials. Bechtel also supplied quality surveillance for some of the major procured items through Bechtel’s international team of supplier quality personnel to confirm adherence to specification requirements.

Bechtel project manager Will Fleming talks about delivering HRDT for ATCO. 

“ATCO Electric needed the HRTD project executed in a very tight time frame, which is why Bechtel’s management expertise was key for ATCO Electric,” says Tom Lenaghan, manager of business development for Bechtel. “ATCO Electric needed to hit their in-service dates in order to deliver power to their customers,” Lenaghan explains. “They also had to manage critical outages in as short a time as possible. Part of our management responsibilities involved coordinating these outages with Alberta’s system operators.”

ATCO Electric also needed thorough documentation of the project, as required by Alberta’s utility regulators. “Bechtel was chosen in part because we could provide the necessary documentation at every stage of the project,” Lenaghan says.
“In a regulated environment, we must have the proper documentation to show how we operate the facilities and to show that all decisions were prudent,” says Quyen Nguyen, vice president, high-voltage direct current (HVDC) projects for ATCO Electric’s Transmission Division. “Bechtel’s processes and systems helped us achieve that goal.”

Time-tested tools and processes

Bechtel’s tools and processes for managing projects to successful completion have been tested over decades of complex engineering and construction projects. Bechtel’s project management systems tie together all activities on a project to ensure that they are tightly integrated and managed.
“A project may be very well-conceived, but without constant attention and troubleshooting, budget overruns and delays are often the result,” Lenaghan says. “Successful project management means working on the right task at the right time—and constantly looking around the corner to identify problems before they impact the project.”
For the HRTD project, Bechtel adapted its standard management tool set for the project’s particular complexities. Integrated cost and schedule tracking and reporting tools for all phases of the project, from engineering through commissioning, were established and accessed by different levels of the project team to manage the scope of the 12 interconnected transmission lines and multiple substation projects. “It’s about making sure the right tools get into the right hands, and making sure everything’s done to scope,” Fleming says.
For Bechtel, scheduling was also a critical part of the HRTD project. “The schedule was extremely detailed, with some tasks planned down to the day or hour,” Fleming explains. “A precise schedule ensures that once a task is done, everything is in place to complete the next task. Much like other power projects, with an electric transmission line project, each task must be completed correctly before teams move on to the next sequence of tasks.”
Project management for major undertakings such as electric transmission projects includes scheduling, but completion of tasks usually moves along in a linear fashion. “However, for the HRTD project, with work proceeding over 200 miles (322 kilometers) and involving more than 1,200 structures, not all tasks happen in one place and in sequence,” Fleming says.
“We use our tools rigorously and proactively so that we have a good view into when the project tasks won’t support the schedule—and we have a much earlier view into problems than the industry usually expects,” Fleming continues. “We always bring this type of approach and thinking into our work—for instance, we know that projects commonly slow down at the end, and we’re prepared with additional crews to maintain deadlines. We’re constantly looking ahead, mitigating risks, and adjusting resources based on the potential impacts affecting the project.” 

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Innovative solutions that helped manage environmentally sensitive sites

About 60 percent of the area where the HRTD project was built passed through protected pastureland, native grasses, and wetlands that are also popular wildlife breeding grounds. To minimize the impact to the sensitive areas, the project team used a mobile app to ensure that the field team had customized information about accessing land parcels and environmental regulations.
“We had automated checklists built into the mobile app, which allowed us to conduct environmental and safety checks while we continued to monitor the project for quality compliance. The automation and integration of the information across the project meant fewer trips back to the office for field personnel and more time in the field focusing on executing the work,” Fleming says. “We also had special GIS handheld devices that allowed workers to easily see the boundaries of the environmentally sensitive areas and make decisions about next steps right in the field.” Violation of environmentally sensitive areas can lead to irreparable physical damage to natural animal habitat, revocation of prior approvals, and reputational impacts from stakeholders, to name a few consequences, all of which have some effect on the project’s cost or schedule—or both.
The Bechtel team applied similarly innovative tools to the project scheduling tasks around land access on behalf of ATCO Electric. “When permits get delayed and access to worksites is prevented, as can happen with such projects, we’re nimble enough to shuffle the schedule,” Fleming explains. “We can provide workarounds to construction teams, enabling them to work at other sites or to complete other required tasks in anticipation of permits or other approvals being acquired. So a delay that might have been 2 months is mitigated with efficient use of the teams that are available. We were able to save money and still keep the project on schedule.” 

Project delivered safely, with minimal environmental impact 

By applying the knowledge gleaned from 116 years of historical data on its wide range of engineering projects (and more than 65 years in the power industry), Bechtel engineers can manage scenarios that increase the risk of delays and cost overruns.

“Our hands-on experience with transmission projects helps us achieve certainty of outcome,” Lenaghan says. “And we can bring this experience to future projects, making them even more efficient.”
“The complexity of this project was in the logistics of constructing a variety of transmission line segments over a vast geographic area, with varying site conditions,” explains Toby Seay, president of Bechtel’s Power global business unit. “Despite working miles apart, the Bechtel and ATCO Electric teams worked in unison to develop innovative and sustainable solutions that ensured the safe delivery of the project with minimal environmental impact.”
“Bechtel’s value is really the process they bring to the project—from cost estimating to scheduling to managing the people and managing the project,” says Nguyen. “Bechtel worked hard to understand what motivated us to make our decisions and stick by our processes. At the end of the project, Bechtel understood exactly what we needed.”

Project Details


Alberta, Canada


ATCO Electric

Scope of services

  • Project management
  • Construction management 

Project completion: 2013

Significant accomplishments

  • Construction of 219 miles (353 kilometers) of new transmission lines and six new substations
    Modifications to 12 existing substations 

Plant configuration

Bechtel, working with its Canadian affiliate, Bantrel, provided project management; procurement management; construction management; contracts management; and environmental, safety, and health management services from contract formation through construction, commissioning, and closeout of the HRTD project.

Transmission line

The project involved constructing 219 miles (353 kilometers) of new transmission lines that included 153 miles (246 kilometers) of 240 kV lines—lattice structures (both single and double circuit)—and 69 miles (111 kilometers) of new 144 kV transmission lines—wood pole, lattice tower, and steel monopole structures (both single and double circuit).

To learn more:

New transmission lines crosses protected lands

ATCO Electric and Bechtel expand capacity on the HRTD project through preplanning and the use of innovative tools.
Source: Transmission & Distribution World