A Different Approach

Published in the Future Power Technology Online Magazine.

The UK Power Market has the technical excellence to conquer markets overseas. John Judge, founder of Judge 3D, explains the cultural differences that need to be addressed to succeed.

THE NEW ENERGY Alliance (NEA) is a joint venture between British company Balfour Beatty Infrastructure and American M.J. Electric that supports National Grid U.S. in delivering its electricity capital investment programme in

New England.

The largest project currently being carried out by the NEA is the 171/172/359 Overhead Line works in Rhode Island, which, according to project department manager Perry Hughes, is due for completion in April 2013 and on target.

Drilling rig installing working on the right of way. Note the requirement to lift one phase of the existing power line to allow clearance to the rig. The project has involved NEA relocating two existing 115kV lines to make way for a new 345kV line over 22 miles of demanding terrain. NEA became involved in the project in April 2010, and the fact that it is running on schedule is a remarkable achievement given the challenges it had to face head on.

On Storm Duty

Last autumn Hurricane Sandy blew into America's east coast, bringing with it widespread damage and catastrophe. The storm was one of the worst and most destructive in American history, and it hit the project hard by forcing it to temporarily close, as workers were sent on storm duty to fix downed lines in New England and New York.

Just a short while later New England was badly hit by winter storms and 30cm of snowfall that caused chaos and disruption across the state, and again the project was halted as workers went off to make necessary and urgent repairs. The days lost to these adverse weather conditions were later reclaimed through extended working hours, including weekend work. Having everyone focused on the project is what brought it back on schedule.

Challenging Conditions

Cultural Differences

Any new relationship or joint venture will experience growing pains as both organisations learn to work productively together. It is a testament to Balfour and M.J. Electric that the project will be delivered on time as committed, and much of this is because growing pains were dealt with in a timely and proactive manner.

There are fundamental differences between how British and American companies operate on infrastructure projects, and British companies in

America that are unfamiliar with the local trading conditions are often caught out and run into problems that set them back.

Early on in this project, Judge 3D was brought in to resolve a problem within the supply chain by establishing clear commercial trading positions for parties concerned and through communication links and trust, which allowed everyone to move forward with a more positive working relationship.

Judge 3D was able to do this through a combination of applying the principles of target cost contracting into the US trading environment and helping the parties understand their respective obligations within this framework, as well as supporting the resolution of the commercial aspects that flow from these. Once these points were made clear and understood, it gave all parties the confidence to understand their position and know what was required from each of them.

New T172 steel structures have been erected, and the new T172 line is being installed. This will allow the old wooden T172 line H-structures to be removed. This will clear space for the new 171 and 359 Lines to be installed.

Resolving Issues

In the US it is common practice to have legal representatives in attendance during a project's early stages and understanding this, Judge 3D were able to work with the legal teams to resolve issues and address potential challenges early on.

Overall, the biggest challenge encountered by NEA came in the planning stage with the identification of a 16" high-pressure natural gas pipeline that ran parallel for two thirds of the 22 miles and was within 15ft of the proposed electric lines. The gas pipeline showed up during the initial surveys NEA carried out to, identify access and work positions for drilling, pole erection and line pull sites.

On discovering how close the pipeline was to the new works, NEA contacted the Tennessee Gas Pipeline Company, the pipeline’s owners, and there followed a series of meetings and Joint surveys. During these meetings a cooperative work plan was developed that has since enabled the electrical lines to be installed safely and on time.

Joint training was undertaken, and a handbook was produced for all operatives and visitors to the site. Responsibilities of the different parties in regards to staking / fencing designs, crossing designs, vibration and lateral monitoring procedures and designs were also agreed.

It is not standard practice to build a major power line near a gas pipeline, though sometimes it can't be helped, and Perry Hughes credits the gas company for their role in keeping his project on track and minimising risk, “I cannot stress enough how important the coordination work with the Tennessee Gas Pipeline Company has been in making the work area safe”.

Preventative Measures

For Hughes, the NEA's success and smooth working so far, from which other projects can learn, is down to taking measures to reduce the impact of surprises. 'The early involvement with the client and engineer to build communication links and trust and the ability to pre-survey the route in detail has allowed for detailed planning."

As the project nears completion there are still challenges for the project delivery team. However, the project delivery team has so far dealt with challenges that could have delayed the project or caused serious safety issues successfully. Through proactive engagement other organisations will hopefully be able to mirror this example of professional delivery in future.

On the far left the new T172 Line is in service. The old 172 has been removed, and the new 171 structures erected (second line of steel structures). Now the new 172 line is being installed. This will allow the old wood 171 structures to be removed, and finally the new 359 Line to be erected.

All photos are courtesy of the New England Alliance

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