Round-up: Project delays, managing risk part of the business

As TransForum West, to take place July 16-17 in San Diego, approaches, TransmissionHub presents a round-up of news about transmission projects, including news about some projects recently completed to others that remain stalled.

More information about TransForum West can be found here. A July 16 panel will focus on managing the risks and challenges of transmission projects in today’s environment, including anticipated and unanticipated challenges and how they have – or will be – overcome.

Delays are a fact of life for transmission projects, and can happen at any stage of the project,  and managing those risks and delays while keeping the project on schedule and on budget is a perpetual challenge.

In June 2012, San Diego Gas & Electric (SDG&E) energized the 117-mile Sunrise Powerlink ahead of its original construction schedule and under budget, despite special precautions the utility had to take when working in the area of big horn sheep, despite grounding of the helicopters it used to set towers following a series of violations and rotor strikes, and despite other construction and environmental challenges.

Elsewhere in California, Southern California Edison (SCE) was forced to delay work on a portion of the 250-mile Tehachapi Renewable Transmission Project (TRTP) when residents of the city of Chino Hills protested that the transmission towers, when constructed, had a “visual, societal, and economic impact … far more significant than what the city or the commission envisioned.”

Work on that segment of the project was halted in November 2011, some 20 months ago. Though work may resume in the very near future, the July 11 decision by the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) that the line be placed underground will result in additional delays as the utility undertakes the engineering and procurement necessary to accommodate the new alignment.

On a smaller scale, SCE engineers were forced to halt work on a section of the Eldorado to Ivanpah transmission line near Boulder City, Nev., in April 2012 when several pairs of red-tailed hawks chose to build their nests too close to the path of the project. SCE was forced to halt work on that section of line until the following October.

In the Pacific Northwest, the Bonneville Power Administration (BPA) has proposed the I-5 Corridor reinforcement project, a 500-kV transmission line that would run from a new 500-kV substation near Castle Rock, Wash., 79 miles to a new 500-kV substation near Troutdale, Ore., to increase capacity and relieve congestion in the Longview, Portland and Vancouver areas. 

The public was first notified of the project in October 2009. The project required an environmental impact statement (EIS), and a draft EIS was released in November 2012, subject to 90-day public comment period. The agency received so many comments that it extended the comment period to 132 days. Partially as a result, the final EIS won’t be issued until 2014 and will be followed by another comment period. At the earliest, construction – originally anticipated to begin this year – won’t likely begin until late 2014 or early 2015, according to BPA’s project website.

The draft EIS for the planned TransWest Express project was delayed by more than a half-year, from the fall of 2012 to July 3. The draft EIS was delayed to allow the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and Western Area Power Administration (WAPA), the project’s co-developers, to develop an agency-preferred route for inclusion in the draft EIS.

How do transmission developers manage such delays?

“We do a thorough risk analysis and we manage that range of risk throughout the life of the project,” Craig Knoell, transmission infrastructure program (TIP) manager for WAPA, told TransmissionHub. However, he said, projects are also occasionally affected by risks that are not anticipated. “There’s always a Hurricane Katrina or Superstorm Sandy” or something similar, he added.

Managing the challenges that accompanied the Sunrise Powerlink involved SDG&E adopting a new approach for regulator and community outreach.

“We did not approach this like a transmission or an engineering project; we approached this like a political campaign,” Jim Avery, SVP of energy supply for SDG&E told TransmissionHub. “You have to identify the selling points that your constituents are going to want to see, and you have to deliver on every one of those promises.”

Several subject matter experts with first-hand experience will address the challenges of staying on schedule and on budget in a panel discussion “Managing the Perfect Storm of Transmission Construction Risks & Challenges” at TransForum West, TransmissionHub’s transmission conference in San Diego, Calif.

In addition to Avery and Knoell, the panel of experts will include Matt Weber of Duke-ATC, and Brian Scott, transmission manager at BPA. TransForum West runs July 16 and 17.