Early in Clay Adams’ career, his director of operations challenged him to learn as many things about the different aspects of energy generation, transmission, and distribution as possible.
Adams listened. In his 16 years with Entergy, an integrated energy company headquartered in New Orleans, he’s worked as a transmission area planner, capital budget coordinator, distribution project manager, supervisor of asset management program design, and manager of substation design. He’s worked on projects that have traversed every kind of terrain, had to restore power to communities hit hard by extreme weather, and found new ways to bring energy to areas that have outgrown their supply and distribution sources.
In his current role as director of project management and construction, Adams is helping lead Entergy through some of its most complex and meticulously planned projects yet. Most people might not think about the front-end work it takes for the lights to come on with a flip of a switch, but for Adams, that might mean shutting down city streets and the interstate through downtown New Orleans. It might mean using helicopters in Arkansas to transport material, workers, and build structures so that construction work doesn’t threaten an environmentally sensitive area. It means finding new sources of energy to keep rates low for customers and updating aging infrastructure in Texas and Mississippi as these states continue to grow. It sounds like a lot, but Adams says it’s part of the job.
“As I progressed from assignment to assignment, I continued to draw on the experience from that previous assignment and look for ways to broaden my impact as well as my knowledge of the business,” he says.
Reconductoring in New Orleans
Construction timeline: July 2015–March 2016
AS PART OF ENTERGY NEW ORLEANS’ POWER TO GROW PLAN, Adams and his team recently increased the wire capacity on roughly 12 miles of transmission line through urban communities that surrounded and included downtown New Orleans. The project allowed more power to flow into the city from the company’s new Ninemile 6 Power Plant.
For Adams, this was a bit trickier than a traditional transmission line upgrade.
“The upgrade projects carried unprecedented reputational risk with our community,” he says. “They carried unprecedented occupational safety risk with a large amount of—as you can imagine—transmission line construction over energized distribution serving our customers. Then there were significant public safety risks of overhead construction on busy city streets.”
The project required working along New Orleans’ levees at the Mississippi River, closing the interstate highway that runs through downtown, and the creation of a transmission construction plan where Entergy used special crews to work on energized lines just outside the Ninemile 6 Power Plant. All of this came in addition to the complications of working in a city that’s below sea level and has a complex drainage and flood protection system.
Beyond just specialized crews, Entergy employed around 180 workers on the project. Adams says the key to organizing such a coordinated effort is engagement through early and frequent communication. No matter how large or small a team member’s role, he says, they have to feel and understand how critical they are to the project.
“From my point of view, when all of the team members—regardless of their role—feel accountable and included, not only are we effective and fully engaged, the work we do is more fun,” he says. “It’s really magical to watch it all come together.”
Navigating Sensitive Areas in Arkansas
Construction timeline: November 2014–June 2015
SOMETIMES A TRANSMISSION LINE CAN BE BUILT OR UPGRADED ALONG A COUNTY HIGHWAY without having to stress too much about the environmental impact that construction might have. Then again, sometimes the areas where the transmission lines run cut through wetlands, hiking grounds, lakeshores, and other areas where large-scale construction could result in significant environmental damage.
That’s why Entergy opted to limit boots and machinery on the ground and chose instead to suspend workers and materials by helicopters as it upgraded the Hot Springs Milton–Carpenter Dam transmission line, which winds its way through Arkansas.
“This was probably my first example of such large-scale use of helicopters on one of our transmission line projects,” Adams says. “However, we’ve since deployed a similar execution strategy on two additional projects that were located in sensitive, scenic mountain terrain as well as wet river bottoms in Arkansas.”
Adams says he and his coworkers are sensitive to protecting the integrity of areas where people hike, fish, swim, or have any number of fond memories, because he and his team members also live in those kinds of environments.
“Some of the communities we serve are well-known tourist destinations,” he says. “They possess a lot of natural beauty, which brings people in from all around the country, not only to visit, but also to live here. . . . We believe the infrastructure we provide should never jeopardize that value.”
Although Adams says that employing helicopters and suspending workers and materials to complete upgrades is the most extreme example of Entergy’s environmental commitment, the company has every reason to do similar work and investigate other noninvasive strategies when it comes to future projects.
“It’s the efforts of significant upfront planning and preparation and then the measured, calculated execution that really makes us successful in protecting the environment while progressing our system,” he says.
Entergy Taps Solar Power
ENTERGY NOW HAS PILOT PROJECTS UNDERWAY IN MULTIPLE AREAS to study the feasibility of utility-scale solar generation. In Mississippi, the company launched three solar installations in three different locations—each capable of generating 500 kW of energy from the array of solar panels.
In New Orleans, the company selected a contractor to begin construction in 2016 of a 1-MW solar generation project with state-of-the-art battery storage technology to help compensate for cloud cover.
On an even larger scale, the company has entered into a power purchase agreement that will lead to the construction of an 81-MW photovoltaic solar energy generation facility that should be online in 2019. When complete, the project will generate enough electricity to power roughly 13,000 homes.