If not for a college co-op program, Chris Rega’s career might have gone in a completely different direction.
While working on his mechanical engineering degree at Northeastern University, he was assigned to the co-op program at Virginia Power (now Dominion Virginia Power), an electric utility company. Rega worked in both the utility’s corporate offices and at a number of its power plants. “I remember being in awe of the size of these amazing machines that were capable of producing electricity for millions of homes,” he says.
Rega returned to Virginia Power for every one of his co-op assignments and ended up with significant experience in the field when he began his job search after receiving his engineering degree. At the Charles T. Main engineering company in Boston, he amassed experience designing combined-cycle gas turbine (CCGT) power plants, working at construction sites, as well as learning how to build and commission these facilities. He then moved to Siemens-Westinghouse, a large combustion and steam turbine manufacturer, where he gained yet another perspective on the industry. At InterGen, an international independent power producer, he learned the business of developing, contracting, and operating large power plants.
In his current role, senior vice president of engineering and construction at NTE Energy, Rega draws on the knowledge he acquired at each of his previous positions. The company, which is owned and led by CEO Seth Shortlidge, focuses on the development and acquisition of strategically located electric generation and transmission facilities in North America. NTE executes all aspects of project development, including initial market and site evaluations, permitting, financing, construction, and facility operation.
Rega’s team supports NTE’s development group with technical information required for siting, permitting, and interconnection to the infrastructure in the area where a project is located and supports the commercial group in the contracting of fuel supply and power sales. His team takes the lead in developing the conceptual design; selecting the major turbine generator equipment; and hiring the major contractors to design, build, and operate the company’s power projects. During the construction phase, Rega’s team will oversee the detailed design as well as the construction of these facilities.
“We ensure that our facilities are built according to contract specifications, budget, and schedule while focusing on safety, quality, and environmental compliance,” he says.
Rega hires individuals who have experience and an attitude that allows them to work without much supervision.
“I expect them to tackle day-to-day issues without my involvement, but they know I am accessible and willing to jump in to help when they need it,” he says. “We are all a close team working toward a common set of goals.”
NTE Energy has two large construction projects underway. The first is the Middletown Energy Center in Middletown, Ohio, a longtime steelmaking town. The city has been supportive of the project, which was helpful for siting and permitting.
“This is a proud, working-class city and they welcomed the jobs that would be created during the construction and operation of the facility,” he says. “During construction, there will be about 300 construction jobs, and afterward, about 20 people will be needed to operate the facility. In addition, the tax base is important to this community—plus the water needs of the facility will be sourced from the city, which generates considerable local revenue.”
The facility is a CCGT project, but Rega says the plant provides additional options for generating energy.
“We will also capture hot exhaust energy from the back of the [combustion turbine generator] in a heat recovery steam generator that boils water into steam—subsequently driving a steam turbine generator, and thereby producing additional electricity,” he says. “By doing this, we are able to extract more energy out of the cycle, making it extremely clean and efficient.” He adds that a leading-edge combustion process helps keep emissions “extraordinarily low,” and that it will provide significant power for the region.
“This facility is expected to generate nominally 475 megawatts of energy, enough to power 400,000 homes,” Rega says. The electric grid the facility will be connected to is part of a regional transmission system managed by PJM, which coordinates the movement of electricity in all or parts of 13 states, including Ohio.
The other construction project NTE Energy is working on is the Kings Mountain Energy Center in Kings Mountain, North Carolina. The plant features a design similar to the Middletown facility, and Rega says that’s not an accident.
“The thinking was that using an almost identical design—along with the same contractors to design and build these projects—would provide a lot of synergies and reduced costs,” he says.
Kings Mountain is using the same type of electricity-generating equipment and the same contractor as at Middletown. Just as NTE has seen in Ohio, Rega says the community proved to be supportive of the project. “While this is a more rural area, the community is equally welcoming of the jobs, taxes, and utility revenues being generated by the project.”
In addition to another late-stage development project in Texas, NTE Energy has several early-stage development projects underway in the Midwest, Southeast, and New England.
“We’re currently working on conceptual designs, permitting, siting, and investigating area infrastructure,” Rega says, adding that the future for the company looks bright. “New environmental regulations will lead to coal-fired plants being replaced. We’re ready to step in with clean and efficient power generation facilities to ensure the adequacy of power supply in these areas.”
As NTE Energy continues to identify niche markets that favor new development, Rega says the most rewarding part of his job is the sense of accomplishment from meeting goals—negotiating contracts; building relationships with contractors, manufacturers, and consultants; getting facilities up and operating; and providing clean, cost-effective electricity.
“Equally rewarding is working with the team I’ve built, and the company we’re building together,” he says. “We’ve come so far in such a short time.”
A closer look at two cutting-edge facilities
Location: Middletown, Ohio, and Kings Mountain, North Carolina
Cost: $500 million per facility
Construction jobs: 300 per facility
Operations and maintenance jobs: 20 per facility
Energy each facility will add to the grid: 475 MW
Outstanding features: High efficiency and low emissions
Design: Combined cycle gas turbine project
Conceptual design for both facilities: Fourth quarter 2013
Expected commercial operations for Middletown facility: April 2018
Expected commercial operations for Kings Mountain facility: September 2018
EPC (Engineering, Procurement, & Construction) contractor: Gemma Power Systems
Engineering subcontractor: Sargent & Lundy
Combustion turbine generator: Mitsubishi Hitachi Power Systems Americas
Steam turbine generator: Toshiba America Energy Systems
Heat recovery steam generator: Vogt Power International, Inc.