When the BPA needed $430 million in capital improvements, …

...it brought in Brian Scott to transform problems into projects.

Though it’s a member of the Department of Energy, The Bonneville Power Administration (BPA) receives no money from Congress and pays for all its processes like any private utility—through rates. So, recently, when much of the organization’s equipment began passing the 75-year mark, necessitating massive, expensive capital-improvement projects, the BPA found itself with a logistical problem in desperate need of a solution: how do you keep costs down for customers while still paying for new infrastructure? Luckily, the organization had Brian Scott to turn to.

Celilo Substation Direct-Current Upgrade

Work on the substation at the northern end of the Pacific Direct Current Intertie (PDCI) in The Dalles, Oregon, hasn’t even broken ground yet; preliminary site work will begin this fall. The project, valued at more than $250 million, is the first part of a larger project to upgrade the whole PDCI. It is in the planning phases, with designing and engineering already underway. The project will remove four aging converters—“old 1970s vintage stuff,” Scott says—and replace them with two state-of-the-art direct-current converters.

Scott transforms problems into projects. “Once it comes to me, they’re giving me a problem to solve,” the manager of the BPA’s Transmission Project Management Office says. He’s responsible for all project planning, and with the help of 42 federal employees and 43 on-site contract employees, he’s now supervising management functions for the BPA’s $430 million capital-expansion program while improving the utility’s project efficiency.

Scott initially joined the BPA in 2009 as its director of facilities, but he transitioned into his current role when the administration’s transmission construction ramped up from roughly $250 million to $400 million. Before then, the BPA was concerned mainly with conducting necessary maintenance in order to keep power flowing, but the age of its equipment forced the utility to make capital improvement a core priority.

Today, Scott sees planning as perhaps the most important word in his job description. “I’ve proven unequivocally that you will spend more money if you don’t do planning up front,” he says. He arrived at the BPA as a retired Navy captain from the Civil Engineer Corps, and at that point the utility’s discipline for capital-improvement projects was in its infancy. To bring the BPA’s systems and personnel up to speed, Scott outlined a three-phase plan to create a culture of project management. “In principle, [it] was easy,” he says, “but you’re literally building the bus as you’re driving down the road.”

 

“You’re literally building the bus as you’re driving down the road.”

Brian Scott
Manager of the Transmission Project Management Office (on creating the culture for capital improvement at the BPA)

 

McNary-John Day 500 kV Transmission line

Seventy-nine miles of new transmission line run along the Columbia River, carrying power from  the McNary Dam to the John Day Dam. The line was finished 10 months ahead of schedule and $140 million under budget, even though its route included rugged terrain and environmentally sensitive areas. Scott calls the project “an example of what happens when the right team in the right roles with the right responsibilities” comes together using the new project-management techniques that Scott introduced to the company. The early completion of the project created extra incentive for finishing other major transmission-line improvements—including the Central Ferry Substation—to enable the McNary-John Day line’s full capacity.  Two other substations were updated during this project to take advantage of new technology.

When Scott first took the wheel of the project-management office in 2010, he enrolled his employees in the Project Management Institute’s training and certification program. Design engineers formerly tasked with doing project management as an additional duty became far more qualified thanks to the coursework. Scott then worked with a third-party consulting firm, First Quartile Consulting, to create the business model that the BPA needed to support its large capital-construction program. Finally, he hired additional consultants in 2011 and 2012 who helped build the utility’s processes and identify the requirements for its management-information systems.

Wilson helicopter strings Grand Coulee sockline, MAR 2012_1

After almost three years of traction, Scott put his newly built management system into practice and started applying his planning and research in the field. However, while Scott was creating a new culture, some of the projects he was brought in to manage were already well underway using past practices, so he still had some cleaning up to do.

For instance, previously, project managers—some of whom were more like project engineers tasked with also managing larger project components—could conceivably be working with three other project managers on four different areas of a project. The result was a fragmented management approach, with sub-task managers mainly seeing only the traffic in their own sectors. Scott reduced this compartmentalization by selecting single project managers who are now supported by teams of staff members tailored to each specific project’s unique demands.

In much the same way that the BPA engineered new transmission systems to modernize its energy delivery, Brian Scott updated the utility’s planning processes and culture to modernize its project efficiency. Now, meaningful change continues to happen at the BPA—change that’s delivering important projects at lower costs and on more dependable schedules.

 

Central Ferry Substation

When wind energy surged in northern Oregon and central Washington in late 2009, the BPA began work on this project to handle the immense increase. The 500/230 kV substation connects the wind farms now lining the Columbia River with the BPA’s expanding consumer base. Scott says the undertaking was “a real struggle because the project was using previous project-management practices,” causing gaps that pushed work off schedule. To meet deadlines, the BPA went over cost by working its crew overtime. “This one was stressful,” Scott says.

The Central Ferry Substation project, 65% complete.
The Central Ferry Substation project, 65% complete.