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The Spy Hill Peaking Station - East Meets West

Mar 1, 2011

A short distance east of the village, and dominating the surrounding area, stands the hill after which the village of Spy Hill was named. And not far away, another landmark is taking shape – a natural gas fired electrical generating plant currently under construction by Aecon Industrial.

“This is our bread and butter work but it is also unique,” says Tim Austin, the project manager. “It is not only our first joint venture with Black & Veatch but also the first integrated construction project for Aecon Industrial’s eastern and western divisions, Aecon Infrastructure and Aecon Buildings.

“It has been a great opportunity for us to get to know each other better and it sets the foundation for smooth integrated projects in the future.”

For years Saskatchewan was considered to be a bit of an economic backwater, but it has seen a remarkable resurgence in recent years. With rising commodity prices and new oil and gas production, the province is shedding its agrarian image and leading the country in economic growth, and that has sparked an increase in demand for electricity.

SaskPower, with the capacity to generate 3,371 megawatts, supplies almost all the electrical power in the province but, as Bill Boyd, the provincial minister responsible for SaskPower, told CBC Television when the Spy Hill generating plant project was announced: “There's an ongoing need as the economy grows - as industry grows - in Saskatchewan for additional power-generating capacity. For SaskPower, there's not a finite need. There's a growing need.”

In 2009, Ontario-based Northland Power signed a 25-year power-purchase agreement with SaskPower, to build an 86-megawatt plant near Spy Hill, 200 kilometres east of Regina. The plant will supply peaking power at time of especially high electrical demand.

Having worked with Aecon Industrial in the past, Northland Power was already familiar with its capabilities in the power generating sector and Aecon was happy to comply with Northland’s request for a proposal to build the plant.

“We knew that Black & Veatch is one of the best global power engineering companies in North America so we asked them if they would like to be our joint venture partner,” recalls Tim Austin, Aecon Industrial’s project manager for Spy Hill. “It was an ideal partnership because our strengths complemented each other with Aecon Industrial doing most of the construction and Black & Veatch doing the engineering and commissioning.

“At the same time, we also decided that since this was a western Canadian project it made sense to involve Aecon Lockerbie and Aecon Infrastructure Western in the project as well. It was a good opportunity to develop an integrated team that could draw on strengths and expertise from across the country.”

 In December 2009, Northland gave Aecon the go-ahead to start work on engineering and to prepare a complete engineering, procurement and construction proposal.

“Since this would be the first time a lot of us would be working together, we spent a lot of time making sure that everyone knew their roles and responsibilities,” Tim says. “We knew we had the expertise in house but we had to make sure we could work together as a team with a common objective.”

In June 2010, Northland Power officially awarded the Aecon and Black & Veatch joint venture a $60 million contract for the new gas-fired peaking plant.

Aecon Industrial, which owns 60% of the joint venture, is providing project management and construction services including civil, mechanical, electrical and instrumentation installation work. Black & Veatch, a U.S.-based engineering, consulting and construction company, is doing the balance of plant engineering including the integration of the gas turbines and engineered equipment procurement, as well as plant start-up management and commissioning.

Completion of the Spy Hill Peaking Plant is expected in the fall of 2011.

Construction Underway

Once the contract was awarded, Aecon Industrial started to mobilize.

“We wanted to get underway as quickly as possible so that we could take advantage of the summer months,” says Tim. “It was a wise move because it turned out to be one of the wettest summers on record and we needed all the time we could get.”

Since the new peaking plant is being built in a farmer’s field, a crew from Aecon Infrastructure Western was one of the first on site, building a gravel access road and grading the site so that construction could get underway.

By November, however, winter set in. In one week, the temperature plunged 20°C to well below freezing and stayed there, which forced the crews to put up hoarding and tarpaulins and use portable heaters to get the frost out of the ground so that they could finish pouring the foundations. Scott Construction, a western based construction company owned in part by Aecon buildings, delivered and erected two of the four prefabricated buildings and despite the weather, by the end of the year the civil work was nearly complete.

While some work continues at the site, construction will get back in full swing (weather permitting) in early spring.

 The two General Electric turbines, which drive the electrical generator, are being supplied by Northland Power, were delivered to the site in January. Known as simple cycle gas turbines, which can be started and stopped quickly in response to changing demand, each turbine is about 20 metres long and weigh about 185 tonnes. The turbines will be installed on a massive concrete pad, 6 metres wide, 23 metres long and 1.5 metres thick.

“Despite their size and power, the turbines have to be installed to extremely tight tolerances so that they maintain a proper balance,” explains Tim. “The turbines are fixed to the concrete pad with anchor bolts and each bolt has to be levelled – a tolerance of about 0.0002 millimetres for each metre.”

By April, all the equipment and components (including piping fabricated by Aecon Industrial Central in Cambridge) will be on site and that will set off the final flurry of activity needed to finish the plant by October.

The project has gone extremely smoothly, says Tim.

“It is our bread and butter work. What makes this project unique is that it is not only our first joint venture with Black & Veatch but also our first integrated construction project between Aecon Industrial’s eastern and western divisions. We spent a lot of time up front making sure that some of our different process and procedures, billing and cost control for example, matched up.

“It has been a great opportunity for us to get to know each other better and it sets the foundation for smooth integrated projects in the future.”